Authors: Cecilia Dominic
Tags: #Werewolves;Lycanthropy;Wizards;Sorcerers;Astral Projections;Familiars;Urban Fantasy;Shapeshifters;Mystery;Murder Mystery
Encountering werewolves can be deadly. Trying to cure them? Murder.
The Lycanthropy Files, Book 3
As the Investigator for the Lycanthrope Council, Gabriel McCord encountered his share of sticky situations in order to keep werewolf kind under the radar of discovery. Now, as the Council’s liaison to the Institute for Lycanthropic Reversal, he advocates for those who were turned werewolf against their will.
Everyone seems to be on board with the Institute’s controversial experimental process—until one of its geneticists is found lying on his desk in a pool of blood.
Gabriel races to single out a killer from a long list of suspects. Purists, who believe lycanthropy is a gift that shouldn’t be returned. Young Bloods, who want the cure for born lycanthropes as well as made. The Institute’s own very attractive psychologist, whose most precious possession has fallen into the hands of an ancient secret society bent on the destruction of werewolves.
Failure means he’ll lose his place on the Council and endanger the tenuous truce between wizard and lycanthrope. Even if he wins, he could lose his heart to a woman with deadly secrets of her own.
Warning: Some bloody scenes, adult language, and consensual sex between adults. Also alcohol consumption at Scottish levels and tempting portrayals of unhealthy Scottish food.
If someone had told me two years ago that I would have three books out in thirteen months, I would have told them they were crazy, and if they could make it happen, I would owe them big. Well, it happened, and I need to thank several people.
First, to the readers who took the chance and picked up a brand new author in the crowded urban fantasy/paranormal world, thank you! I couldn’t have done this without you. Whether we interact online or in person or only through the characters who inhabit my imagination and now yours, I’m so grateful you’ve allowed me to share this experience with you.
Second, if I have anyone who’s been a fairy godmother in this process, it’s my wonderful Samhain editor Holly Atkinson. She challenges me and makes my work the best it can be. Kudos also go out to my critique group—Amy, David, Kimberly, and Susan—who help me get my words right and make sure I’m not missing any bodies by the end of my books. Thank you all for your patience and feedback!
Third, to Amber my awesome adminion who keeps me sane and organized at the office, I couldn’t have done all this without you.
Fourth, I have to thank my family, especially my husband Jason for his caring and support. Whether it’s due to me stressing out over proposals, meeting deadlines, or marketing, he’s always there with a big hug and an appropriately calming beverage.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this book in loving memory of my Italian grandmother Cristina Rose, an avid reader who wrote a book once upon a time but never pursued a writing or publishing career. I’m grateful for the genes, the support while you were still with us, and the continued prayers from Heaven.
I noticed the blood first. Earthy and metallic, its scent wove over and under the olfactory texture of the clinic, a red ribbon among the blues and greens of antiseptic and rubber glove. If it had been any other clinic, and I had been any other type of man, I might have dismissed it or processed it with only mild curiosity. But here among my fellow predators at the Institute for Lycanthropic Reversal, the spilling of blood in the quantities I sensed meant someone had made a deadly mistake.
As Lycanthropy Council Investigator, I was accustomed to fixing mistakes, and I thanked whatever gods may be watching that I had come on this official Council visit instead of one of the others.
“Mister McCord?” The woman’s voice startled me and brought my attention back to the human part of the brain, mostly ruled by the visual.
I was glad to be back in the realm of sight, and my impressions resolved into a lovely picture. The voice came with high cheekbones with a dusting of freckles, large gray-blue eyes, and long dark red hair pulled back in a ponytail. I could even forgive the flat American accent—which stood out to me no matter how often I heard it here in my home country—particularly as it came through pale pink lips pursed in inquiry.
“And you are?” I turned on all my Scottish charm, mindful that, as a former colleague had said, “American chicks dig the accent.”
“I am Doctor Selene Rial, one of the psychologists.” Her tongue rolled the
just enough to make me focus on her mouth and her full lips before she took my outstretched hand. She leaned in and again surprised me, this time by giving me the customary sniff of our kind’s greeting. On our
cheeks, lest you think I’m being crude. Her scent brought to mind a vivid image of a waterfall in the humid twilight of the American Southeast in summer and a lithe red wolf watching its broken reflection in the ripples of the pool below. I wondered, as usual, what she caught from mine.
Whatever she saw, amusement and some concern flickered across her face when she stepped back. “It is an honor to have you here. We haven’t seen much of the Council since the Institute’s ground breaking ceremony.”
I inclined my head. “I am pleased to be here. But tell me, has there been an accident? I smell blood.”
Her eyes widened. “Do you? I don’t think anyone has spilled any today. We fired the tech who dropped the sample tray last week.” She bit her lip. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”
I would have been charmed by her guilelessness had I not been distracted. “Perhaps we should investigate.”
“Follow me.” She led me through the door and to a stairway on the left. The smell diminished to just the barest hint such that I wouldn’t notice it if I wasn’t looking.
Lonna Marconi-Fortuna, the Institute’s co-director and another werewolf, met us in the hall with her husband Doctor Max Fortuna, wizard and other co-director, at her side. The tension eased in my chest when I saw them. They had been my main concern.
“What is it, Gabriel?” Lonna asked when she saw my expression.
“Can you not smell it?”
She shook her head. “No, but your senses are better than ours—just one of the many ways how those of us who were changed by the vector differ from those of you who were born with CLS.” She wrinkled her nose. “But now that you mention it, something smells off.”
“Interesting.” I moved ahead of them, not wanting to lose the faint blood scent. I chased it down the corridor, its ribbon thickening as I ran down another staircase and through a maze of hallways until all that stood between me and full-on assault was the door to an office. Max caught up to me and wrinkled his nose, telling me how strong the odor was since he was a wizard, and therefore limited to human-level senses.
“I told the ladies to stay back,” he said.
I nodded. “Whose office is that?”
“Doctor Otis LeConte. He’s one of our geneticists. He’s a human.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You have full-blooded humans working here already?” As soon as I said it, I recognized how ridiculous it sounded. Of course I knew they hired humans, and the scientists would have started with the others. My attention was only half on the conversation. I wanted to help the poor bugger, but I listened and smelled for signs of an assailant to avoid potential ambush.
“He was the first we hired. It was one of the items we had on our list to talk to you about today. Do you hear anything in there?”
“No, nothing’s moving.”
He moved forward, then stopped and looked at me. “At your command, Gabriel.”
He opened the door and stumbled back, his hand over his nose and mouth.
“Come now, you’re a physician. It can’t be that—” But it was. LeConte lay splayed out on his desk, his lab coat dripping with the contents of his circulatory system onto the dark brown carpet. Both wrists had been gashed open, as had his neck, and his eyes stared at the ceiling in horror. Files had been turned out on the floor and had become a Red Sea of paper.
As I recoiled in horror, my mind catalogued observations to sift through later. There was a laptop computer on a shelf to the side and several little statues and knickknacks that looked to be made of precious metal also stood in front of books on the bookcases.
Not a robbery, then.
I would have to wait and see what the coroner said—he was one of us as well—but the wounds didn’t look like they had been made by werewolves. Perhaps someone pretending to be one of us, but definitely not us. Also, the window stood wide open, which allowed the air to circulate. It had likely kept any of the younger ones from smelling the blood, although I still didn’t understand how
didn’t notice something.
“Oh my god! Otis?”
I caught Selene’s arm before she barged into the room. “There’s nothing to be done for him. You’ll only interfere with evidence now.”
Her face had gone white, even her freckles, and she wobbled. I pulled her to me so she wouldn’t fall should she faint, and I found she fit perfectly against my chest. I filed that away for future consideration as well, turned, and guided her to a chair in the hallway. She slumped forward, her head between her knees, and took deep breaths. Truth be told, I felt woozy as well, and the hand I placed on her trembling shoulder might have been as much to steady myself as her. I hoped my father wasn’t looking down from wherever werewolves went after they died and shaking his head in shame at his weak-stomached son. It seemed unfair I could eviscerate animals with ease, and I could even handle the usual murder victim, but the sight of such brutality always got to me. I blamed childhood trauma.
“I don’t want to know, do I?” asked Lonna. She stood with her arms crossed and looked down at Selene. Max had closed the door and gone to call the police. Not the human ones. Lord knows we didn’t need them mucking about in here.
“You’re going to need to find a new geneticist,” I told her. “He’s been exsanguinated.”
She arched an eyebrow. “You and your big words. Someone sucked his blood?”
I started to shake my head, but then stopped. A man LeConte’s size—and I was pretty good at guessing heights and weights—would contain about five liters of blood. What I had seen looked like a lot, but after a certain point and with the element of surprise, any amount over about a liter would seem excessive. His neck and wrists had still been dripping, which told me the deed was recent. I stood, commanded my knees to stop their schoolboy knocking, and said to Lonna, “Can you take care of her? I need to see if I can find the trail of the perpetrator.”
Lonna nodded and sat next to Selene, whose breathing deepened and lengthened into quiet sobs.
I found Max outside LeConte’s window, which was on the first floor. I half-expected to see him performing some sort of spell or doing something else wizardly, but instead, he shone a light on the ground.
“Ultraviolet with a little magical help,” he said. “If there was blood on the bastard’s shoes, it’ll show, but the sun is too bright for me to see. Can you stand there?”
“I can’t imagine how there wouldn’t be anything on the killer’s shoes unless he’d covered them with something.” I moved to create a shadow on the ground.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t rained in days—an unusual state of affairs for Scotland, even in the summer—and the ground was dry, so there were no impressions to be found. Between the two of us, we detected some blood splotches on the mulch under the bushes outside of the building and some bent grass blades. Of course, the traces petered out, but at least it was along a straight trail leading directly toward the woods.
“I’m going to change and go after him,” I said.
Max nodded and turned to give me some privacy. To his credit, he didn’t say that would have been the thing to do in the first place, although I cursed myself for not thinking of it sooner. Finding LeConte’s body had shaken me, as had the implications. My mind raced with what I would tell the Council and how they would react.
It crossed my mind that someone inside the building may be watching, and the thought made my skin crawl, but time was too precious to waste on privacy concerns, and Max was there in case someone decided to take advantage of that moment of disorientation when the change was almost complete. I divested myself of my garments and left them in as neat a pile as I could, and took a deep breath. The life force of nature of the woods and trees nearby reached out to me, and I to the wild energy. It enveloped my limbs, traveling down my nervous pathways to blood, bone, and sinew, drawing everything to the center. I simultaneously folded inward and outward, gritting my teeth at sensations that, although they had become familiar, were never comfortable—like hands molding and rearranging me with no regard for the limits of my tendons and muscles. I understood the change differed for everyone, and I envied those for whom it was easy. Some legends held that werewolves wore their animal skin on the inside when they were human. Turning inside out would have been easier.
Finally, after I had physically rearranged myself, I panted for a few breaths and then took off. The path that had been illuminated by the UV light now showed itself to me with the scent of LeConte’s blood, heavy and fatty and crying out for vengeance. The dim light of the woods barely registered as my nose directed me to turn right, left, over, under, squeezing between. Whoever had murdered the scientist had his own interesting scent, a combination of pipe smoke and kerosene.
The trail ended at a stream, but there was still enough scent in the air to figure out which way the murderer had run. From what I could recall, there were busy roads on either side of the woods where a getaway car and driver could be waiting.
I chose the direction my nose told me to go and found the trail about forty meters north. The blood was gone, but the kerosene-pipe smoke smell was there along with sweat. That scent disappeared along the side of a road, where a small pull-off could have hidden a vehicle behind some trees, and I noted where it was so the police could come look for tire tracks. Not that they’d likely find anything of any help in the dry gravel.
I trotted back toward the Institute, and a lithe red wolf surprised me in the woods on the other side of the stream. She smelled familiar.
She sat back on her haunches and regarded me with a concerned look.
“Did you catch them?”
“Obviously not. And what are you doing out here? They could’ve been armed.”
In spite of lacking human facial muscles and their range of expression, we lycanthropes can express our emotions adequately without speaking, and her glare told me she was pissed even without her baring her teeth.
“Otis was my friend. I wasn’t going to let them get away.”
She turned and walked in the direction from where she’d come.
“I wasn’t either,”
I told her.
she tossed over her shoulder at me.
I ran to catch up with her.
“Look here, there’s no reason to get sarcastic with me. You’ve had quite a shock, but I’m only trying to help.”
The tears came through her mental voice.
“Don’t you think Otis’s murder could have something to do with your visit? The timing is odd, isn’t it?”
Her question would’ve floored me had we been near a floor. Here I had gone chasing after a potentially armed villain—yes, I could acknowledge my own bravado and stupidity here—and she had started sorting through the facts like a scientist. I blamed the surge of attraction I felt toward her on my current animal state, my tendency to fall for smart women, and our situation. We’d faced death and now strolled, albeit briskly, through lovely woods on a summer day. I’d learned two years previously not to fall for scientists. They’ll stick with their own every time.
“I apologize if I offended you.”
“No offense taken. I was just pondering what you said, and I sincerely hope my visit today had nothing to do with your friend’s death.”
“It would be a coincidence, and I don’t believe in those. All I know is that a dear friend has been killed in a horrible manner.”
I wanted to dissect the manner in which she’d said “dear friend” so I could quell the jealousy that blossomed in my chest. Had she and LeConte been lovers but covered it up to avoid a workplace scandal?
Stop acting like a pup,
I scolded myself.
What the lovely Selene does on her own time is her business.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret when we left the woods, walked into the sunshine of the Institute grounds, and once again became Lycanthropy Council Member and scientist.
“I see the cavalry is here,”
Indeed, the yellow-and-blue marked car, just similar enough to the human police vehicles, had arrived, its lights whirling. When I got close, Lonna’s mental voice came to me:
“The police are here, and the detective wants to see you first.”