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Authors: C T Adams,Cath Clamp

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HUNTER'S MOON

By

 

Cathy Clamp CT Adams

 

 

 

 

Dear Readers,

Welcome to a new reality! Shapeshifters live among us, hidden in plain sight. The Sazi are wolves, bears, snakes, cats, and raptors. But they're also fathers and mothers, business owners and public servants, living and working beside regular humans. Tony Giodone is an attack victim, turned Sazi against his will. Since recovering from his injuries he's been forced to try to understand his new nature and to fight to fit it into his life.

People ask authors: where you come up with these ideas? The truth is that we haven't a clue! Usually we start with a question: What if? What would happen if werewolves existed? Would modern humans be tolerant of them? Would shapeshifters have to hide what they are in order to survive in society?

Absolutely. Rules would have to be strict. The secret would have to be clouded in smoke, hidden in shadow and wrapped in an enigma. Punishment of those who tell tales would be necessarily harsh, because discovery would bring the very real risk of slaughter. Sad, but true.

It's taken a lot of sweat and tears to bring Hunter's Moon to this final form, to create and apply rules for an entire society, and we're very proud of this wonderful new reality. We hope you enjoy visiting the world of the Sazi. We certainly enjoyed writing it!

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

HUNTER'S MOON

Copyright © 2003 by Cathy L. Clamp and C. T. Adams

Edited by Anna Genoese

A Tor Book

Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

175 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10010

www.tor.com

Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

ISBN 0-765-34913-2

EAN 978-0765-34913-2

First Tor edition: December 2004

Printed in the United States of America

DEDICATION and

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book is dedicated first to Don Clamp and James Adams, who have offered patience and unswerving moral support through the years. Then to our parents, families and friends for their love and willingness to read through version after version (really, really thanks for that!).

We would also like to thank those people who helped us make it this far: To Thia, Bonnee, Dara, Gina, and Trace for being wonderful and helpful. Special thanks go to our agent, Merrilee and the wonderful Ginger, and our terrific editor at Tor, Anna.

Lastly, but most importantly, our most sincere thanks to Laurell K. Hamilton and Darla for their steadfast encouragement and help, and just being all 'round terrific people.

Without all of you, this wouldn't have been possible. We know that words aren't enough, but they're what we do best.

 

Chapter 1

Nick's Tavern is in the worst part of town. The front door opens onto a back alley and the back door dead-ends inside another building. The Fire Code wasn't in effect when the building was built. Nick's has been there that long. My Dad remembers going there after work for a schooner of beer—twenty-four full ounces— and a plate of cheese. A buck bought both in the 40s. It was big enough for lunch for two or dinner for one. They don't do cheese plates anymore. Pity.

One time I went around the back of the building just to see what was on the other side. It's an upholstery shop. Big frigging deal.

Most of the buildings that surround Nick's are vacant now. Multi-colored graffiti scars plywood-covered windows. God only knows the last time someone cleaned the trash from the sidewalks.

I'm known as Bob to my clientele. That's not my real name. I'm the kind of person you would expect to find at Nick's. Call me a businessman who works the wrong side of the street. All sorts of people have need of my services: high class, low class, quiet suburban mothers, good church-going men. At one time or another all of them give into their primal instincts and call me. I meet them here at Nick's to talk details.

I'm not a hooker or a drug dealer. Too many risks, not enough money. There are no drug deals at Nick's. You'd get bounced on your ear if you even thought about it.

I'm an assassin. A killer-for-hire. If you have the money, I'll do the job. I like puppies, kids and Christmas, but I don't give a shit about your story— or your problems. I'm the person you call when you want the job done right the first time with no sullying of your name. Yes, I am that good. I apprenticed in the Family.

Oh, there's one other thing I should mention. I'm also a werewolf.

Yeah, I know. Big joke. Ha. Ha. I never believed in "creatures of the night" like vampires, werewolves, or mummies. They're the stuff of schlock movies and Stephen King novels. I'm not.

The door to the bar opened and the figure silhouetted in the doorway almost made me laugh out loud. I stifled the laugh with a snort of air. Then I let my face go blank again. Talk about stereotyping. The woman wore an expensive black pantsuit, odd enough in a low-class part of town. But the part I liked was that she wore a dark wig-and-scarf get-up like something you'd see in the 60s, and huge round black sunglasses. Oh yeah, she'll blend right in with the steel workers and biker babes. Sheesh.

My client had arrived— and she was early. No big deal. We'd only set the appointment a few hours ago. I hadn't even unpacked from my last job. The quicker we finished, the better I'd like it.

The woman in the doorway was forced to take off the sunglasses to look around the darkened bar. I got a look at her face. Nothing special. Deep, green eyes looked out from a relatively plain face. She stood about 5'5". I felt like I recognized her, but she was like me— a blender. She could probably get dolled up and look pretty but she would never be stunning. She was a woman that a man would fall in love with for her mind or personality. Or maybe her body, which was on the good side of average. She was probably a size ten— Maybe a twelve. She carried it well and comfortably. The suit spoke of money. Good. She could probably afford me. The rest of the get-up spoke of nerves.

She scanned the bar, looking for someone she had never met. You can't mistake the look. The person just stands there, hoping that someone will wave or pick them out. I let her feel uncomfortable for a moment, just long enough to size her up. She wasn't a plant or a cop. Nobody can fake that level of nervousness. She wasn't wringing her hands, but close.

I was sitting in the back booth— my usual table. I looked around the bar while I counted slowly to ten. It's a comfortable, familiar place. A Family hang-out. See, it hasn't been too long since the Mob ran this town. Nick's was one of the neutral taverns. Not upper-class. Nick didn't run "no hoitsy-toitsy gentlemen's club." His words, not mine. Nick's son Jocko runs the place now. Yeah, really. Nick actually named him Jocko. Poor guy.

The bar looks old. Not elegant old, just old. Dark wood covers the floors and walls and surrounds a real marble-topped bar. Remnants of old sweat and stale cigarette smoke cling to every surface. You can't see through the nicotine haze on the windows. Jocko doesn't do windows.

I finished counting, raised my hand, and caught her eye. She walked toward me, both hands clutching her purse like someone was going to lift it. A pleasant jingling reached my ears. Jewelry of some sort. When she reached the booth she looked at me, surprised. Apparently I wasn't what she expected.

I don't wear an eyepatch or have a swarthy mustache. I even have all of my teeth. I look absolutely ordinary. Collar-length black hair, blue-grey eyes the color of gun metal, and a build that shows I work out but not to excess. I was dressed in a blue cotton long-sleeved business shirt with the sleeves rolled up, grey slacks and black sneakers that look like dress shoes as long as I keep them polished. The jacket that matched the slacks was folded on the bench next to me. I look like I could be a lawyer, a writer, or a mechanic. I don't look like someone that would as soon shoot you as look at you. That's the idea. I gave her my best mercenary look; cold, uncaring. I wouldn't want her to think that I was just some guy hitting on her. She looked away, rattled.

Her scent blew me away. I notice smells more since the change. Nice term— "change". Her scent was stronger than it should be, but not perfume. This was just her. The woman smelled sweet and musky, with overtones of something tangy. I learned from Babs that means she's afraid. Fear reminds me, although Babs said I'm nuts, of hot and sour soup. Every emotion has its own particular scent. And lies! When someone lies, it smells like black pepper. I don't mind; it helps me interview clients.

Most scents are soft and not particularly noticeable. They rise off a person's skin like ghostly presences, only to disappear into unseen breezes. I have to concentrate to catch a person's real scent.

My client slid into the opposite side of the booth. I didn't stand. She didn't expect me to. Good thing. She sat with her back to the room. Another good indication that she wasn't a cop. Cops, like crooks, have a thing about having a wall at their back. Nobody can hit you from behind or pull your own gun on you.

"Um," she began when I just stared at her without saying anything. "Are you Bob?"

I nodded but still made no sound. It unnerved her and amused me. She was having a hard time looking at my face, whereas I looked straight into her eyes.

"I'm hoping you might be able to help me," she tried again. It required no comment, so I didn't make one.

My nose tingled. The client smelled like blood; like prey. But that's true of most people. Especially near the full moon. I never used to think much about the moon phases. Now I plan my life by them.

People didn't used to smell like food. Some days it pisses me off. But I didn't get a choice in the matter. A hit went bad. The woman I was stalking stalked me back. I wasn't prepared for a being with superhuman speed and strength. She ripped my throat out of my body and left me for dead. I should have died. She said so later. Guess I was too damn stubborn to die.

The wash of emotions from the client overpowered my nose. I could handle the fear and the blood. I was used to them. I don't meet with clients until after I've had a large rare steak for lunch. But this lady smelled of heat and sex. Heat, not sun— heat and something that I couldn't place that reminded me of a forest. Warm, dewy, sweet, salty. It was a safe, comforting smell unlike anything I've ever been in contact with. It was a smell that I wanted to soak into my pores. Breathe in, roll in. I had to blink and sneeze to clear my senses. Then I returned to staring quietly at her.

She couldn't meet my eyes but kept scanning the room. Her fingers tapped restlessly on the table, then on her lap, then on the table again while she bit at her lips as if looking for something to say or do. The hot and sour smell of fear, the burnt metal of frustration overwhelmed me as if they were my own. That was new. My muscles tensed against my will. Suddenly she stopped fidgeting, took a deep breath and looked right at me.

"Would you please say something?" she asked in frustration. "I'm drowning here."

That won her a quick smile. "Would you like something to drink? It's not much cooler in here than outside. That dark suit has to be hot."

She looked at her outfit and had the good grace to blush. "It's a little trite, isn't it? I didn't even think about the heat. I was trying to be inconspicuous." She smiled a bit as if she felt my amusement the way I was feeling her emotions, but she smelled embarrassed. A dry smell, like heat rising off desert sand, mixed with other things I didn't recognize yet. I don't know a lot of the emotions yet. Babs told me that I'd get the hang of identifying them. I'm in no hurry.

I didn't believe it at first. Didn't want to. But Babs followed me around for three days, and taped me with a camcorder. I avoided her like I avoid everyone, but she filmed enough to prove that she was telling the truth. Babs was a sadistic bitch about it, too. She made sure she immortalized all of the most embarrassing moments of a dog in living color. Pissed me off. I stopped returning her calls after that.

"I don't exactly blend in, do I?" The words brought me out of my musing.

Lying to save her feelings would be diplomatic, but I try to save lies for important things. "Not really."

I raised my hand to signal Jocko. He moved out from behind the bar, wiping his meaty hands on a snow white bar rag. Jocko's a big 6'8". He looks beefy but it's mostly muscle— he was a pro wrestler for a few years. Jocko wears his waist-length black hair in a ponytail because of state health regs. A scar cuts his left eyebrow in half. He's second-generation Italian but he looks Native-American because of the hair.

Jocko smells like bad habits. Whiskey and cigarettes and sweat. He walked slowly toward the table— almost lethargically. Jocko moves slow because he threw his back out in the ring years ago and since there isn't any worker's comp insurance in wrestling he came home to run the family business. But he's hardly a cripple. Jocko can still throw a man through the front window if he puts his mind to it. Everybody knows it. Like me, he doesn't talk much. He just stood at the table waiting for our order.

"Draft for me." I turned to the client with a questioning look.

"Um— rum and Coke, I guess." Jocko started to walk away. She raised her voice a little bit to add, "Captain Morgan, please." He nodded without turning or stopping. "And Diet?" a little louder still. Anyone that didn't know Jocko would presume he hadn't heard her. I knew he heard her and that he was chuckling softly under his breath. The mild orange smell of amusement drifted to me. A rum and Coke is not the same thing at all as a Morgan and Diet. Not to a bartender.

She glanced at me. "Do you think he heard me?"

"He heard. Now, what can I do for you?"

"I want you to kill someone," she said calmly. "I can afford to pay whatever the cost."

Well, that was direct! I shut my mouth again, closed my eyes and reached my hand up to rub the bridge of my nose. It eased the tension behind my eyes.

"Is something wrong?"

There's a certain code in my profession. The client doesn't actually ask and I don't actually admit what I do for a living. It's just sort of understood. Money is discussed but only because both parties know what transaction is being, well, transacted.

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