The psychic rumble seemed to vibrate Eva Roman’s skull. She jumped. “What the heck was that?”
Her father glanced over at her. “What? I didn’t hear anything.” Bill Roman was a bear of a man with a broad, handsome face and a gray-shot black beard that blended with the salt-and-pepper bristle of his hair.
The customer he was talking to shook his head and slid his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I didn’t hear anything either.”
Eva hadn’t either, but she still felt as though she were sitting next to the amps at a rock concert. Her chest vibrated as if from a deep bass note, and ripples of ice crawled along her spine.
What was that?
Something that isn’t making you any money. Unpack the boxes, Eva. Dragging her attention back to the job at hand, she used a box cutter to slice open the cardboard box at her feet, pulled out a stack of books, and started counting. It was Wednesday, and the week’s shipment had arrived, so she needed to check the contents.
Yep, fifty copies of Amazing Spider-Man, just like the shipping manifest said. She put a check on the list and propped the books up at their assigned spot on the New Releases display rack.
Ruuuumble. Despite her instinctive jolt, Eva tried to ignore the vibration as she started pulling copies of X-Men out of the box.
“It was completely out of character.” Her father leaned an elbow on the counter, settling in for his favorite pastime: debating his beloved comics. “Deathrage would never torture anybody, not after what Psichopath did to her in issue 28. It’s like Batman using a gun or Superman beating somebody to death.”
“The writer’s just trying to take the book in a darker direction.” A tall, handsome blond, Joel Harmon had intense opinions and a love of comics almost as deep as her father’s, which was why Bill loved to argue with him.
Eva had fallen in love with him for basically the same reasons. At least until she realized what she was doing to him. Or worse, going to do.
“Darker? Her name’s Deathrage, for God’s sake. How much darker can she get?”
Rummmmmmmble. Something about that sound gnawed at Eva, gave her the nagging feeling that something was deeply wrong. Something she had to do something about. Stop. Fix. Fight. Something.
And she had to do it now.
Dropping the stack of books back into the box, Eva looked over at her father. “Mind if I take off, Dad?”
He turned around and examined her face. Whatever he saw carved sudden lines of worry around his hazel eyes. “Hey, are you all right?”
Eva rolled her shoulders uneasily. “I just don’t feel well.” She had to find out what the hell was causing her Spidey sense to tingle.
She hadn’t even known she had a Spidey sense.
“Go. I’ve got this.” Bill took the box cutter out of her hand and went to work on the next box of books.
“Thanks.” She gathered up her purse and headed for the door, striding past massive wooden display racks stacked with comics. “See you tomorrow, Dad.”
“Bye.” He pulled out a stack of books. “I’m telling you, Deathrage wouldn’t have laid a finger on that guy . . .”
The bell attached to the door jangled merrily as Eva stepped out of the Comix Cave. It was dark, the moon riding the stand of pines that bordered the strip mall’s parking lot. In the distance, dogs barked in hysterical chorus. Probably at the same thing that was making her crazy.
She could head into those trees, transform, and go investigate. Might be better to take the car, though. Especially if she needed a quick getaway from whatever was doing . . . whatever the hell it was doing. Eva dug her keys out of her purse and clicked the fob to unlock her dark blue Ford Focus.
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but she hoped it didn’t do anything to werewolves.
Greendale, South Carolina, was a New South town, which meant it was one big suburb and a small city core that included one or two tall buildings with skyscraper pretensions. The Comix Cave lay on the western outskirts, among ranch houses, subdivisions, and so many trees you had to drive carefully to avoid hitting Bambi. It was mating season, and amorous deer and speeding cars made very bad mix.
But there was something out there that definitely wasn’t a deer. Driving toward the psychic rumble, Eva tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Should I be doing this? What if it’s dangerous? I could be getting myself in real trouble.
On the other hand, what if somebody else was in trouble? It certainly felt like trouble, and Eva could handle threats other people couldn’t. If, that is, she could figure out a way to do it without scaring the crap out of the innocent bystanders. Most folks found the sight of a seven-foot werewolf seriously disconcerting.
That included rapists. There’d been the incident last year when Eva had heard a woman screaming near the shop late one night. When she’d gone to investigate, she’d found four drunken frat boys trying to rape a seventeen-year-old girl.
Eva was strong enough and fast enough to knock all four of them out before they even knew what hit them. Their victim, however, did see her; in fact, she’d screamed louder at the sight of werewolf Eva than she had during the attack. Eva had told her to shut the hell up and hand over her cell phone. She had, shaking.
She’d looked thoroughly astonished when Eva simply called 911, handed the phone back, and growled, “You never saw me, right?”
Not surprisingly, Eva did not make the papers, though the kid did tell the cops a very thin lie about a big guy with a baseball bat who’d rescued her from her attackers.
To Eva’s satisfaction, all four little bastards had gone to jail—after a stint in the hospital.
Go, Team Fluffy.
Too bad somebody hadn’t been able to do the same for Eva five years ago.
The rumble was coming from the left now. She turned into a neat little middle class development and drove down the darkened street, following the sensation. The vibration had grown so powerful, she could feel it in her back teeth. Howling instincts insisted something evil was up ahead.
Not just bad. Mwwwwhahhahah evil.
Looking through the trees bordering the yard just ahead, she saw something glowing blue. Eva pulled over and parked, staring through the windshield at the light. Could be a police car. Except police cars didn’t go Mwwwwwhahahahahh.
“You are such an idiot,” Eva muttered, swinging the car door open. She was starting to feel like the dumb blonde babysitter investigating the mysterious sound in the basement.
Don’t be a wuss. If you run into a knife-wielding psycho, you can always eat him. There was a certain comfort in being able to kick a grizzly’s ass.
Unfortunately, that sense of Mwwwwwhahaha—whatever the hell it was—made her think it was something a hell of a lot worse than a grizzly bear. And that she’d do well to be a lot more careful than she’d been with those rapists.
Still, she had just as strong a sense that she had to investigate. So one way or another, she was going in.
Time to pop the claws? Eva started toward the glow, her running shoes padding quietly on the pavement. Nah. No reason to risk scaring the bystanders until I see what I’m dealing with. Deciding on caution, she veered into the trees for whatever cover they could provide. If she’d still been human, she probably wouldn’t have been able to see where she was going.
Eva slipped through the woods until she found a good view between two trees. She promptly wished she hadn’t.
There in the driveway of a brick split-level, a man in armor writhed five feet off the ground, suspended in a globe of shimmering energy. Blue bolts of force snaked in and out of his helpless body as the globe grew brighter. He grunted in pain as the energy licked at him.
Eva stared in sickened horror. It’s torturing him! As if that wasn’t bad enough, a huge, white-furred shape stood bathed in the blue glow. Another werewolf, one even bigger than Eva was when she got fuzzy. He’d plugged his fingers into the globe’s shimmering surface, and streams of energy flowed into his claws, as though he was capturing them.
A vicious grin stretched his thin black lips, displaying a mouthful of very white, very sharp teeth. His eyes glowed feral and orange. He looked even bigger than the monster who’d attacked Eva five years ago, easily eight feet tall, as brawny as a polar bear. Like the bear, his fur was white, though flecked with crimson splatters. She realized it was the man’s blood.
All of which made him a fifteen on the Furry Badass scale. Eva considered herself a seven on a good day.
I’ve got to do something. She flexed her hands nervously, cold anxiety drawing her muscles into quivering knots. As soon as the werewolf got tired of torturing his victim with . . . whatever the hell he was doing, he was going to start ripping the poor bastard apart. She couldn’t just sit back and watch.
Claws digging into flesh, fangs slicing into her belly, jerking bloody mouthfuls, the spreading cold of death as her life drained away, the black horror of being eaten alive . . .
Eva swallowed hard, trying to keep from tossing the burger she’d had for dinner. Squaring her shoulders, she started to reach for the magic.
No, shrieked a mental voice, hitting a note that would have made a chalkboard cringe. That thin...