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Excerpt of Beneath a Darkening Moon by Keri Arthur

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Imajinn
December 2004
Featuring: Savannah Grant; Cade Jones
248 pages
ISBN: 0975965379
Trade Size
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Paranormal, Mystery Police Procedural, Thriller Psychological

Also by Keri Arthur:

Blackbird Crowned, July 2021
Paperback / e-Book
Magic Misled, February 2021
Paperback / e-Book
Blackbird Broken, October 2020
Paperback / e-Book
Deadly Vows, June 2020
Paperback / e-Book
Blackbird Rising, February 2020
Paperback / e-Book
Wicked Wings, October 2019
Paperback / e-Book
Burn, June 2019
Paperback / e-Book
Demon's Dance, February 2019
e-Book
Cursed, November 2018
e-Book
Hunter Hunted, August 2018
e-Book
Unlit, May 2018
Paperback / e-Book
Hell's Bell, February 2018
e-Book
The Black Tide, December 2017
e-Book
Ashes Reborn, September 2017
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
Blood Kissed, May 2017
e-Book
Winter Halo, December 2016
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
Flameout, July 2016
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
City of Light, January 2016
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
Wicked Embers, July 2015
Paperback / e-Book
Darkness Falls, December 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Penumbra, November 2014
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Generation 18, October 2014
Trade Size / e-Book (reprint)
Memory Zero, September 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Fireborn, July 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Circle of Desire, April 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Circle of Death, March 2014
Paperback / e-Book (reprint)
Circle of Fire, January 2014
Paperback / e-Book (reprint)
Darkness Splintered, November 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Darkness Hunts, November 2012
Paperback / e-Book
Beneath a Darkening Moon, October 2012
Hardcover / e-Book (reprint)
Beneath A Rising Moon, August 2012
Paperback / e-Book
Darkness Devours, June 2012
Paperback / e-Book
Darkness Rising, November 2011
Paperback
Darkness Unbound, October 2011
Paperback / e-Book
Mercy Burns, May 2010
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
Bound to Shadows, November 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Deadly Desire, April 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Destiny Kills, November 2008
Mass Market Paperback
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, October 2008
Hardcover
Hotter Than Hell, July 2008
Mass Market Paperback
The Darkest Kiss, May 2008
Mass Market Paperback
Embraced By Darkness, August 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Dangerous Games, April 2007
Paperback
Tempting Evil, March 2007
Paperback
Kissing Sin, February 2007
Paperback
Full Moon Rising, January 2007
Paperback (reprint)
Full Moon Rising, February 2006
Hardcover / e-Book
Penumbra, November 2005
Trade Size
Beneath a Darkening Moon, December 2004
Trade Size
Memory Zero, June 2004
Trade Size
Kiss the Night Good-Bye, March 2004
Trade Size
Circle of Desire, July 2003
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Beneath a Rising Moon, March 2003
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Chasing the Shadows, November 2002
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Circle of Death, June 2002
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Hearts in Darkness, December 2001
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Circle of Fire, August 2001
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Dancing with the Devil, March 2001
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Excerpt of Beneath a Darkening Moon by Keri Arthur

Savannah Grant climbed out of the truck and breathed deeply of the crisp air. Though it had snowed last night, the sky this morning was rich and blue, and the sun contained a surprising amount of heat.

The aspen trees surrounding the small clearing glowed a rich, vibrant gold that contrasted sharply against the blue of the sky and the white of the snow-covered peaks looming high above. Leaves littered the ground beneath her feet, but the snow that had covered them earlier was now little more than droplets of water through which the sunlight gleamed, making them glow like mini rainbows.

It was a tranquil setting that hid a darker heart.

She slammed the door shut and turned around as a second truck came to a halt in the clearing. Three men climbed out—two deputy rangers, and a brown-haired teenager who looked positively green around the gills.

His gaze skirted the clearing, resting momentarily on the barely visible trail that disappeared through the aspens. Then he gulped and looked at Savannah. His blue eyes were wide and frightened—a sure sign that for once in his short life, Matt wasn’t crying wolf. "I don’t have to go back up there, do I?"

"No." She tried to give the kid a reassuring smile, but it probably looked as fake as it felt. But then, it wasn’t every day two human tourists were murdered within a week of each other within the confines of the Ripple Creek werewolf reservation.

And it certainly wasn’t every day those murders were an exact replica of a past event—an event that still haunted the worst of her nights.

A shiver ran down her spine. Not from the cold, though here in the mountains it was certainly that, despite the sun’s heat. Clairvoyance wasn’t something she’d ever laid claim to, but she’d had premonitions in the past that had certainly come true, and that was what she was feeling now. The murders would not stop with the current two—and the past she’d tried so hard to forget was about to slap her across the face.

She rubbed her arms and stepped away from the truck. "Ike, you want to stay here with Matt?"

"But—"

"Ike," she warned, in no mood to take any of the young deputy’s crap today. "You do as I say, or you head back down the mountain."

"How the hell am I going to learn anything—"

"You could always sit at a desk and do paperwork," she cut in. "Your choice."

Sullen didn’t even begin to describe his expression as he nodded. Guilt slithered through her, but she shoved it away and glanced across at Ronan. "Ready?"

The russet-haired deputy nodded and hitched the small backpack onto his shoulder. She spun, and walked across the clearing. Sunlight and golden glowing leaves dappled the slight path, but it quickly gave way to deeper shadows as they moved into the pines.

"You were a bit hard on the kid, weren’t you?" Ronan said, his deep voice seeming to resonate through the silence. "I know he can be annoying, but he is truly eager to learn."

She blew out a breath. "I know. It’s just—"

"You’re dreaming again, aren’t you?"

She looked over her shoulder. Ronan’s gray eyes gleamed almost silver in the shadows, and they were full of concern. But then, they’d known each other a very long time. Ronan was not only one of her few close friends, but he’d been her very first lover. Even though it went against her policy of not mixing business and pleasure, they still shared a moon dance when one or the other was feeling the bite of loneliness.

"What makes you think that?"

His smile echoed through his eyes. "The only time you’re so short-tempered is when you’re feeling the heat of the moon or have been dreaming. Considering we shared a few rather energetic nights last weekend, I figured it was the latter."

She grinned. "Have you made the bed yet?"

"Yeah. Otherwise Conor would be asking who I was with."

She nodded. The cabin they used for their retreats had been in Ronan’s family for years, but these days it was only occupied in spring, when the fishing was good. It was the perfect sanctuary the rest of the year, except that Conor, Ronan’s younger brother, was one of those wolves who had a nose for intrigue and always seemed to be three steps behind them. While he didn’t appear to know about their some-time affair, neither of them wanted him to find out, if only because the kid was a blabber-mouth. Besides, their illicit meetings not only went against her own rules, but the council rules, as well.

Though the council, she thought grimly, definitely needed to pull their heads out of their asses and look around. Not so much because of the no fraternizing with co-workers rule, but for all the other rules they were trying to institute. Like a ten o’clock curfew on anyone under eighteen. This was the twenty-first century, for God’s sake, not the Middle Ages. It was dumb-ass rules like that that had driven her out of both home and Ripple Creek when she was barely seventeen.

Of course, her views on the matter, though often aired, weren’t taken into consideration, despite the fact her dad was the head of the council. He also happened to be the main man behind all the saving-yourself-for-marriage flag waving currently going on, despite the hassle and heartache such beliefs had caused Neva, Savannah’s twin, just over a year ago.

"What are the dreams about this time?" Ronan asked.

She brushed aside a tree branch, waiting until he’d safely passed before letting it go. "Same old, same old. Death, destruction and mayhem."

Only this time, it wasn’t in the past, but the present. And that scared her, because the man behind those murders so long ago was supposedly dead.

So how could they be happening again, here in Ripple Creek, the exact same way? The press had never released all the details, so it couldn’t be a copycat. Yet the murder—or at least, the first murder—was exactly the same. Right down to the mutilation of the genitals.

A shiver ran down her spine. Fear, she acknowledged. Fear of what was coming. Who was coming.

She frowned at the thought, but at that moment, death touched the air. She stopped, sniffing the faint breeze and tasting the scents entwined within it.

"A new death," Ronan said, stopping close enough that she could feel his body heat. "The blood is still fresh."

She nodded. "The hint of sage and musk suggests the victim is male."

"Same as the first one."

She glanced over her shoulder and met his gaze. The grim certainty reflected in his eyes echoed through her. They had themselves a serial killer, and with autumn giving way to winter and drawing in the cross-country skiing crowd, soon there would be far too many potential victims in Ripple Creek.

"Let’s get up there before the scavengers do."

She followed the ever-thickening scent of death through the trees. The path became steeper, rockier, as the tree line began to recede. The clumps of snow become drifts that ran on and on, and the chill in the air was more noticeable. Yet, despite that, sweat trickled down her spine. But not from exertion. The past she’d run from was merging with the present, and all she could see in the near future was disaster.

She swiped at the moisture dribbling down her forehead and tried to get a grip on her overactive imagination. It was just a murderer—just a crazy person. The past wasn’t coming back to haunt her. It was a weird coincidence, nothing more.

Maybe, that deep-down voice said. And maybe not.

"There’s the egg-shaped boulders Matt mentioned." Ronan pointed to the rocks off on the left hand side of the trail.

She nodded and made her way toward them. Beyond the stones, death waited.

Like the first victim, this man had his arms and legs stretched wide, his penis and scrotum sliced away, and his heart removed. For a moment, she closed her eyes, fighting not only the sickness that churned in the pit of her stomach, but the memories that came crowding back.

Even without those memories, it was doubtful that scenes like this would ever become easy, she thought, as her gaze swept around the stone circle that surrounded the mutilated body. She might have spent the last nine years as a ranger, but death was not something she’d visited often. Which was why finding someone so brutally and methodically killed still had the power to shock her.

"We have ourselves a nutter," Ronan said, as he came to a halt beside her.

"That we have." The question was, did this nutter echo past events by chance or by design? "You want to secure the area and take some prelim photos? I’ll call headquarters, and get them to call in the coroner."

"The doc’s not going to be happy," Ronan commented, as he swung the pack off his shoulder and took out the crime scene tape. "It’s barely eight, and Wednesday is his day off."

"Obviously, no one told our murderer," she snapped, then met his sharp glance with a wave of her hand. "I know, I know. I’m going to have to stop being so bitchy."

"Or go see someone about those damn dreams."

She nodded and got her cell phone from her pocket. Then she stepped out of his way and made her call. Kelly, who was both their administrative assistant and communications officer, answered on the second ring.

"Ripple Creek Ranger’s office."

"Kel, can you ask Doc Carson to head on over to Pike’s clearing at the top of Red Mountain Road? Ike will be waiting for him."

"Will do. You’ve a visitor, by the way."

"Who?"

"A Mr. Jones from the Interspecies Investigation Squad."

Savannah swore under her breath. The IIS were an offshoot of the FBI, and by law they had to be notified whenever a human was killed on werewolf land. But she hadn’t expected them to come running so quickly, nor did she really want them here. The men and women of the IIS had the reputation of riding roughshod over local law enforcement and had, in the past, caused a lot of bad feelings between the community and its police officers. She certainly didn’t want that happening here in Ripple Creek.

"Tell him I’m coming in." At least that would give Ronan, Ike and the Doc time to do a prelim examination of the scene and the body before the IIS charged in and took over. She glanced at her watch. "I’ll be there in twenty."

"I’ll tell him. I’ll even offer him decent coffee."

Which, in Kel speak, meant the man in question was not only single, but gorgeous. She smiled slightly, half wondering if, just this once, they should use Kel as a distraction. Hell, there were few men of any species that didn’t take a second, third and fourth look when Kel walked by, so it might just give them a chance to do their job without IIS inference. But the way their luck had been running of late, Mr. Jones would probably end up preferring dark haired men rather than voluptuous blondes— and none of her deputies were inclined that way.

She hung up and met Ronan’s expectant gaze. "The IIS are here."

He swore, long and loud.

"Yeah," she said. "Exactly. I’m heading down there. I’ll get Ike to meet Carson, and he’ll have to assist you here."

Ronan nodded. "He’s damn good with the cameras, so he can take over that job."

"Just keep an eye on him—with the IIS here, we can’t afford any of his exuberant mistakes."

Ronan nodded and began taking photos of the body and the ceremonial ring of small stones surrounding it. She cast one more look at the victim, her gaze resting momentarily on the severed genital area, noting once again the lack of blood in the dirt beneath the body. She shivered and turned around, making her way back down the hill.

If history was repeating itself, she just had to hope that everything about that time of her life wasn’t about to make an appearance. Because there were some sections she had no desire to revisit in any way, shape, or form.

"Ike," she called, once she’d reached the clearing. "I want you to go down to the main road and wait for Doc Carson. Bring him up here and take him to Ronan. You’re to help Ronan after that."

The young deputy’s eyes lit up. "Really?"

"Really." God, was she ever that enthusiastic? Probably not. By the time she’d applied for the deputy position, she’d truly seen the darker side of human and wolf nature. She’d known all too well the full extent of damage some people could do to others—be it physical or emotional.

"Matt, you want to ride back to town with me?"

The teenager nodded and climbed into her truck. She glanced back to Ike. "Do what Ronan tells you to—nothing more, nothing less."

Ike grinned and gave her a thumbs up, his carrot-bright hair glowing like a beacon in the morning sun. Savannah shook her head, climbed into her truck and headed back to town. By the time she’d dropped Matt off and talked briefly to his parents, thirty-five minutes had come and gone.

Kel looked up as Savannah opened the front door of their little section of city hall, her expression a mix of amusement and annoyance. "Our dear IIS officer is not impressed with tardiness. Or so he’s said, every five minutes for the last fifteen minutes."

"One of those, huh?"

"Yeah. All looks and no charm." Kel placed a mug on the counter, and the rich aroma of cinnamon coffee teased Savannah’s nostrils. "Here, take this. You’re going to need it."

Savannah grimaced and picked up the steaming mug. "What excuse did you give him?"

"I didn’t. He’s not my boss, and he certainly wasn’t polite, so he didn’t deserve an update."

She couldn’t help a grin. "So did he get that coffee?"

"Machine blend, not the good stuff."

Meaning he’d really pissed her off. "Could you take all my calls while I deal with this fellow?"

"Will do."

"Thanks, Kel."

Savannah sipped the sweet, aromatic liquid, fortifying herself as she walked around the counter and trundled down the long hall to her office. The door was shut, and the blinds shuttered, affording her no glimpse of the grump who’d manage to annoy their usually jovial administration assistant.

She grasped the handle with her free hand, and pushed the door open. "Sorry to keep you wait—"

The rest of her words died as the man inside turned around.

Shock and something else, something she couldn’t quite define, rippled through her. The man standing so calmly in the middle of her office was the one man she’d hoped never to see again.

For too many minutes, all she could do was stare. This man had haunted her dreams for nigh on ten years, yet except for the crow’s-feet near his eyes, his too-handsome features showed no real sign of aging. He was a big man, just over six feet tall, his build lean but powerful, like that of a sprinter. His hair was dark brown, but the mahogany highlights she’d so adored now contrasted against flecks of silver that gleamed in the sunlight streaming in through the window behind him. Once upon a time his hair had been long, and tied back carelessly in a ponytail—a ponytail she always used to undo, just so she could run her fingers through those gloriously silky lengths. Now, though, it was short, barely even brushing the shoulders of his starched blue shirt.

Her gaze finally, inevitably, locked with his. For several heartbeats, she couldn’t think, was barely able to breathe, as the navy blue of his eyes all but consumed her.

Heat prickled across her skin and ignited a familiar ache deep inside. She knew she had to move, had to do something other than simply stand here and let him consume her like this. Yet, she couldn’t tear herself away from the power of that gaze. From the memories she saw deep within it.

A slight smile touched the lips that were still as sensual as she remembered. Then his gaze rolled languidly down her body, a touch that wasn’t a touch, and yet one that sent energy singing across every fiber of her being. Her nipples hardened, pressing almost painfully against the restrictions of her shirt, and the deep down ache got stronger.

His navy gaze completed its erotic journey and rose to meet hers again, lingering a little on the scar that marred the left side of her face. But it wasn’t the heat in his look that made her tremble, it was the sudden flash of anger.

As if he had anything to be angry about.

"Well, well," he said. "Fancy finding you here, of all places."

His voice was husky, deep, and conjured memories of whispered endearment’s and long, sweaty nights of lovemaking. And even after all the time that had separated them, his voice still had the power to rock her. Maybe because she still heard it in the worst of her dreams— dreams in which he’d spun his web of desire and deceit around her as easily as he had in real life.

And it was those memories, as well as the anger that was now so visible in the depths of his eyes, that got her feet moving.

"What are you doing here, Cade?"

The smile that touched his lips never reached his eyes. Never warmed those icy, dark-blue depths. "You reported a murder. I’m here to investigate it."

She sat down at her desk and waved him to one of the visitor’s chairs. He sat down, his movements an echo of power and grace.

"I mean, why are you really here?" She drank more coffee, grateful for the flush of warmth it spread through her otherwise chilled system.

He raised a dark eyebrow. "As I said, I’m here to investigate the murder of a human on this reservation."

"And did you happen to tell your superiors that you were once involved with the chief ranger of said reservation?"

"Why should I?" His gaze met hers, and all she could see, all she could feel, was his cold, cold anger. The warm caring that had once attracted her to this man had long gone—if, indeed, it had ever actually existed. "You were nothing more than a means to an end, Vannah. A pleasant way to pass the time as I tried to catch a killer."

Though she’d long known the truth, his words still hurt. After all, she’d once cared for this man. Cared for him deeply. To discover it was all nothing more than lies had cut to the quick. Yet his lies were not the worst of his actions. Far from it.

She leaned back in her chair, and feigned a calm she didn’t feel. "My name is Savannah. Kindly use it."

"Savannah," he mocked. "Such a sweet name."

"So was the girl you knew as Vannah. You sure as hell cured her of that."

Something flashed in his eyes. Not anger, because that was there already, but something deeper, darker. "The girl I knew as Vannah put on a damn good show of being sweet, but time sure proved otherwise."

"Time?" She gave an unladylike snort. "We knew each other less than a month."

Which was time enough to think she was in love. Time enough to prove how bad a judge her heart could be.

"Sometimes," he said, "a month is all it takes to prove how very wrong first impressions can be."

"How very true," she said dryly. "So why don’t we just drop the Happy Trails memory time, and get down to business?"

"Suits me."

He crossed his legs, drawing her eye down the powerful line of his thigh and shin to the garish blue and red of his boots. A smile touched her lips. It seemed even the starched blue correctness of the IIS couldn’t break his love of cowboy boots.

"Tell me about the murder."

Her gaze came back to his. "Everything is in the report, which I’ve no doubt you’ve read."

"I want your impressions."

"Really?" Bitterness crept into her voice. "And why would you want the opinion of a no good—what was the term you used that night? Whore? Strumpet?"

His face closed over. "I thought we were keeping this business?"

So they were. But it was harder than she’d thought it would be, especially when the warm mix of sage and tangerine touched the air, stirring her hormones as much as it did memories of the nights she’d spent in his arms, drinking in that same scent.

"There’s been a second murder," she said, the annoyance in her voice aimed more at herself than him. God, anyone would think she was still that dizzy teenager, not the much wiser woman she’d become. "Same MO."

He sat up a little straighter. "Why didn’t you mention this straight away?"

"Could have something to do with seeing the one face I never wanted to see again."

Again that darkness flared in his eyes. "Tell me about the second murder."

"As far as we can tell, it’s exactly the same as the first one. My people are up there now, locking down the scene and taking prelim photos."

"Who discovered the body?"

"Local teenager out for an early morning run."

"You’ve taken his statement?"

Anger flickered through her. What in moons did he think she was, an amateur? "Hell no," she bit back. "Was I supposed to?"

"Sarcasm is not what either of us need right now." His gaze bored into hers. "If you can’t handle me being here, on this case, step aside and let someone else take care of it."

She didn’t bother answering. As the IIS officer for this region, he had no choice in being here, and as head ranger, neither did she. But he was right about one thing— she had to get a grip on herself. "The coroner should be up there by now. You got a team following?"

He nodded. "Two people. They should be here this afternoon. We will, of course, take over investigations, though we’ll appreciate your department’s help in dealing with the townsfolk."

And he was going to need it, because the citizens of Ripple Creek didn’t appreciate the sort of superior attitude he was currently offering. She took a drink of coffee and asked, "How far behind are they?"

"They’ll be here tomorrow."

"Are you intending to wait for them, or do you want to head up there now?"

"I’d like to get up there before the scene gets too contaminated."

That flicker of anger became a roar. "My people are well trained and damn good at their jobs."

"But they aren’t trained for this sort of investigation, which is why the IIS are always called."

The IIS being called had nothing to do with skills—or the lack thereof—but was a means of pacifying the humans who always seemed to think that the murder of a human on a werewolf reservation was the first sign of a planned uprising. Humans—or at least some of them—seemed to live in permanent fear of wolves. Why, she had no idea, especially when humans had all but wiped out the werewolf population in America. Hell, of the twenty reservations that had been granted originally, only eleven now existed. And two of those were in jeopardy from the encroaching human population. Resettlement was currently being discussed, but she knew from her old man that this time, the wolves in those two reservations were going to give the government the legal fight of its life.

But she didn’t bother saying anything, because voicing her opinion wouldn’t matter a damn. Cade was here, and their part in this play was now officially minor.

She gulped down the rest of her coffee and rose. "I’ll take you out there now."

"Good. And on the way there, you can give me your opinion about these killings."

She bit back the instinctive urge to throw another bitchy comment his way. As she walked passed him, she tried to ignore the warm tease of tangerine in her nostrils. But it wasn’t so easy to ignore his familiar presence at her back, or the way his body heat seemed to caress her skin, burning her the way the sun might burn during summer.

It had been like that the first time she’d met him—a rush of heat, a fever that had become more fierce the longer she’d stayed in his presence. No wolf since had ever given her that sort of reaction, and she was damn glad of that fact. These days, she was quite content to spend her time in Ronan’s arms, secure in the knowledge that the sex was good, that she was safe, and that he would never do anything to hurt her.

Kel turned around at the sound of their footsteps, and her gaze went from Savannah to Cade and back again. Though her expression was perfectly pleasant, Savannah was hard pressed not to smile. Cade had a lot of ground to make up if he expected anything more than very basic assistance from Kel. And considering that the smooth operation of this ranger station depended greatly on the efficiency of its admin assistant, Cade was in deep trouble.

Unless, of course, he brought his own admin assistant, which, considering the sort of money being thrown at the IIS these days, was highly likely.

"Kel, I’m taking Mr. Jones up to Pike’s clearing. If anything urgent comes in, call Steve to handle it." She glanced over her shoulder. "Have you booked rooms for yourself and your people?"

The deep blue of his eyes seemed to bore right through her. "Not yet."

She repressed a shiver and glanced back to Kel. "And arrange two rooms at one of the lodges."

A smile touched Kel’s lips. "Right away."

Savannah knew that look, and she suspected luxury accommodations—or at least, as close as they got to it here in Ripple Creek—was not what Cade and his people were going to end up in. "In town," she added, just to ensure they didn’t end up in some Godforsaken corner right on the outskirts.

A pout touched Kel’s lips. Savannah smiled and led the way out the door. At least Cade couldn’t have a go at her about the accommodation—but she very much suspected that he’d have a go at her about lots of other things. Most of them in the past, and most of them things she’d much rather forget.

But if he thought she was still that meek and mild teenager, he was about to learn how very wrong he was. If he wanted a damn fight, he’d get one.

Because after years of dreaming about the events of ten years ago, she was more than ready for it.

***

Cade shifted slightly in the truck’s seat so he could study Vannah’s profile without being obvious about it. She’d changed since he’d last seen her, and the most apparent of those changes was the pale scar over her left eye. But while it constantly caught his gaze, it didn’t really detract from her unconventional beauty. Nothing could—not the scar, the shorter cut of her once gloriously long hair, nor the cold wariness in her green eyes.

He’d always expected that sometime they would meet again, simply because his work as an IIS officer took him to many different reservations. And though he’d never really thought about how he would react, he’d expected that anger would be first and foremost on the list of emotions. It had certainly been there—hard, deep, and furious. But what he hadn’t expected was the rush of desire, nor such fierce relief over the fact that she was safe, well, and whole.

And if anything, the flood of those last two only served to make him angrier. At her, and at himself. He’d followed the path of desire once before with her, and it had almost resulted in his death. He would not go down it again, not even for the woman who still haunted his nights.

"Tell me your first impressions of the murders," he asked again, his voice a touch harsher than necessary.

She slanted him a super-cooled look. "It’s in the report."

"I want your thoughts, not the sanitized summary you wrote for the IIS."

A smile flirted with her lips—lips whose sensual touch he could still remember. "Do you really want to know my thoughts?"

"Do I have to put you on warning?" Maybe that would be a good idea. Two warnings and she was off the case, and he would be free to deal with the murders without interference from her or the past.

"The killer uses a ritual to murder his victims," she said, voice ultra professional yet managing to sound tart. "Blood results state the first victim was drugged, and given there’s no evidence of resistance, I’d say the second victim was, too.

"The stone circle was present in the second murder as well?"

She nodded. "As are the mutilations."

"And what do you think of them?"

Her gaze met his briefly, the green depths giving little away. This reserve was new. Once upon a time, he could have read a world of emotions in her eyes.

Though he’d learned the hard way that some of those so visible emotions were nothing more than lies.

"I think we have a nut on our hands."

He raised an eyebrow. Was she deliberately avoiding any reference to the murders of their past? Or was she simply intent on giving him the usual "this is my town and don’t you forget it" crap that he generally received from rangers of small reservations like Ripple Creek? He suspected it was the latter, and that disappointed him. He’d expected more from her.

Though why, he had no idea. After all, she’d given him very little in the way of help the first time they’d met.

"And you don’t see any similarities to past murders?"

She met his gaze again. "That’s not for me to judge, is it? Not with the IIS here."

In other words, she wasn’t admitting anything. Not to him, anyway. Which was no surprise, really. They’d done it the hard way the first time, and probably would again.

She stopped the truck beside another, in a clearing that could have come straight off a postcard, and climbed out. He quickly followed suit and breathed deeply of the crisp air. If there was anything he missed about reservation life, it was the purity of the air, and the sheer and utter quiet of clearings like this.

But then, it was hardly practical for an IIS officer to live in one of the reservations he might have to investigate, although many did. He’d grown used to city life, though, and as places to live went, Denver wasn’t all that bad. At least there were glorious mountains within easy driving distance.

"This way," she said, and disappeared down a small path, until all he could see was the occasional flash of sunlight gleaming off her golden hair.

Not that he needed to see her to follow her. Her scent was as unusual as she was—a tantalizing mix of a warm summer breeze combined with the rich headiness of exotic flowers and fruits. Even here in the mountains, with the crispness of the air and the scent of pine and snow heavy in his nostrils, her aroma was a teasing, sensual seduction of his senses and memories.

And he had better get control of those senses—and memories. He was here to catch a killer. Nothing more, nothing less. Whether or not he and the chief ranger had a past was irrelevant, even if he still bore a scar across his shoulder blade that was the direct result of said ranger’s duplicity.

They came out of the tree line, and the hint of blood touched the cold air. The rich, metallic smell made his pulse quicken in anticipation—something that always happened at the beginning of a hunt, even after all his years as an IIS agent. He ignored the sensation and swept his gaze across the barren, snow-speckled landscape. Ten years ago, the killer had carefully avoided obvious paths, concentrating his movements across barren stone or through water. Given this killer seemed to be imitating those past events, he very much suspected the situation would be similar here. Only here, the ground wasn’t as rocky, so there was a good chance that they might find a print.

If the rangers hadn’t walked all over the area, that was.

Which wasn’t being entirely fair, he acknowledged. He glanced at Vannah’s stiff back, his gaze drawn to the gentle bob of her golden ponytail, and then drifting down the curves of her back and rump, so lovingly displayed by the close fitting, pale green ranger’s uniform.

He’d seen some sloppy work done on many of the reservations, but Ripple Creek didn’t appear to be one of them. Her initial report to the IIS had been one the best he’d seen, though that didn’t mean she and her team had the skills to deal with something like this.

She led him through the rocks and stopped when she reached a large, egg-shaped stone. He stopped beside her, his nostrils filling with her rich scent as his gaze swept the scene before them. It was exactly the same as the seven he’d seen long ago, right down to the mutilated genitals and the victim’s left handed, one finger salute. It had always looked like the dead were offering one final opinion on life itself.

Two men worked near the feet of the victim, the older of the two—and the man he presumed was the reservation’s acting coroner—on hands and knees between the victim’s legs, intimately scrutinizing the gaping hole that had once contained penis and scrotum. A much younger man stood ready with a camera and an eager expression.

A third ranger squatted at the top of the stone circle, but he looked up as Cade came to a halt. The flicker of animosity in his gray eyes was brief, but nevertheless there. He placed a flag in the soil, rose and carefully made his way toward them.

"We’ve found several foot prints, both human and wolf. I’ve flagged them all." He came to a halt beside Vannah and crossed his arms.

Presenting a united front against the invader, Cade thought, and barely restrained a bitter smile. How many times did he have to face such shows of unity before people began to realize he was actually working for them, not against them?

"Ronan, this is Senior Agent Cade Jones, from the IIS."

The russet haired ranger held out his hand. His grip was neither aggressive nor passive, just the grip of a man very comfortable in what he was and what he was doing.

"Pleasure to meet you, sir," the ranger said.

Like hell it was. "Please, call me Cade. I don’t believe there should be formalities between law enforcement officers." Not as long as they understood he was in charge. He waved a hand toward the victim. "How far have you progressed?"

"We’ve taken photos of the victim and surrounds. Done an initial check for marks, but haven’t moved the victim as yet. I’ve ordered an ambulance to take the body to the state medical examiner."

Cade nodded. "I’ll have someone waiting there. Did you find anything different from the first murder?"

"Not so far."

"What is the coroner looking at?"

"Odd marks in the soil," the coroner said, without looking up. "If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone was lapping up the blood as this fellow bled to death."

If true, this was a departure from the previous murders, and it would help cement his theory that this was a copycat. He walked over. Vannah and the other ranger followed, a fact he knew only because her scent remained as strong as it had been when he’d stood beside her.

He squatted on the outside of the stone circle. This close to the body, the aroma of blood and death was all consuming.

"Where?" he said.

The coroner quickly pointed out several marks in the soil. He was right—it did look like lap marks. He glanced up at the kid with the camera. "Have you taken photos?"

The carrot-haired ranger nodded, his very demeanor one of fierce anticipation. First murder, Cade thought wryly, and wondered if the kid’s exuberance would last any longer than the end of this case. It certainly hadn’t with his first murder case.

But then, he’d been a still-wet-behind-the ears recruit into the IIS, not a mere ranger, and those murders were still the worst he’d ever seen. Until now.

"Are you ready to move the body yet?"

"Yes, sir. Just thought you’d prefer to be here when we did it."

At least the officials in this town seemed to be up with recommended procedures. He couldn’t remember the amount of times he’d arrived at a crime scene only to find the body already bagged and hauled away. And while it was true that he usually couldn’t spot anything more than the coroner would, he liked to be present when the body was first moved—just for that one time when he did spot something. "Thank you."

The old man nodded and carefully moved to one side of the victim. The kid raised the camera and took a shot. Heaven only knows why, but Cade could hardly berate him when he was trying to do the right thing.

The coroner shifted the victim’s arm, then rolled the body over, carefully avoiding the flag that had been placed in the soil not too far away from the corpse’s thigh. And there, on the victim’s back, was another major difference to the original murders.

Because carved into the dead man’s flesh were two words.

Remember Rosehall.

He remembered, all right. How could he not, when his very first case had been his very worst? Thing was, the damn man behind those original murders was dead. He’d seen the body himself. Had been there at the burial, to watch the casket being covered with dirt and to spit on the grave.

As far as he knew, as far as anyone who’d been on the team at that time knew, their felon had worked solo. And no one, outside those in the IIS, knew the smaller details, such as the fingers. So how could a man who’d been dead for over eight years be here in Ripple Creek, taunting them with new victims?

Cade sat back on his heels and glanced up at Vannah. "Was there anything carved into the flesh of the first victim?"

She crossed her arms. He couldn’t honestly say whether or not she recognized the importance of the message, because there was nothing to be read in her expression or her eyes. But she had to understand it. She’d been at Rosehall, for God’s sake.

"No. It would have been in the report, otherwise."

He nodded and glanced back at the coroner. "Roll him over."

No other messages. No other marks. He rose and stepped back so the kid could get clearer shots of both the victim’s back, and the blood that had seeped from the cuts and stained the soil.

From the clearing below them came the roar of an engine.

"That’ll be the ambulance," Ronan said. "You want me to bring them up?"

"Yes."

Ronan’s gaze flicked to Vannah, whose nod was almost imperceptible. No guessing were his allegiance lie, or who he’d be taking orders from, Cade thought. But again, he’d faced that sort of response many times in many reservations. At least the rangers here were more circumspect about it.

He turned, his gaze searching the surrounds. Half a dozen small flags dotted the ground, indicators of possible evidence Ronan had found. He began a search of his own, but after an hour or so, he had discovered nothing more than what had already been marked. Despite his earlier aspersions of Vannah’s people, they obviously knew their job.

He rose and stretched the kinks out of his back. There wasn’t much more he could do here until Trista and Anton showed up with their equipment. The site just needed to be guarded, and any of the rangers were more than capable of that. What he needed was decent coffee—which seemed to be seriously lacking at the ranger station—and a burger or two.

Though an icy beer wouldn’t go astray, either. The sun had risen towards noon, and the heat and light reflecting off the nearby snow was extensive. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and glanced down to the tree line where Vannah stood talking to Ronan.

And saw Ronan briefly touch her face in an intimate, caring way.

Anger crashed though him—anger that was territorial and instinctive. A growl rumbled up his throat, and before he even realized what he was doing, he’d taken several steps toward them. He forced himself to stop and took a deep breath. Then he released it slowly, as he flexed his fingers and tried to retain some control.

But he knew, as he stared down at the two of them, that he was in deep, deep trouble.

Because the promise he and Vannah had made to the moon so long ago was obviously still in force.

And the sheer ferocity of his response suggested that the moon was not going to let them escape their promises so easily a second time.

Excerpt from Beneath a Darkening Moon by Keri Arthur
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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