When Allison is asked to play Cinderella-turned-Fianceé at a Halloween ball, the last thing she expected was to be accused of murder on the same night. She has to find the killer or she’ll be
put to death for the crimes she didn’t commit. To make matters worse, the victims are all werewolves.
On the short list of potential victims, Allison has to act fast, or the killer will have one more body to add to his little black book of corpses.
There’s only one problem: One of the deaths has struck too close to home, and Allison’s desire for self-preservation may transform into a quest for vengeance…
Autumn had come, and I was powerless to stop it. This time. A yellowed leaf clung to its branch, mocking me with its splash of color. The rest of Central Park clung to the hope of summer. I stood on my toes and snatched at it, but a chilly wind ripped it from my reach.
The leaf landed on the path several steps away. When I reached it, I crushed it beneath my boot.
“Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Allison?”
I twisted my heel while wrinkling my nose. With light brown hair and creamy skin prone to burning rather than tanning, Mark would never be my tall, dark, and handsome. He was good looking and aggressive with his money. With my sort of luck, he’d never account for anything more than an occasional lunch buddy who needed my help with his finances. Then again, maybe it was better for both of us that way.
Some girls had all the luck. Me? I had more money than I knew what to do with, most of it acquired from Mark in management fees like I was some sort of modern-day vampire. Too bad money couldn’t buy me a life.
“Who said I went to bed last night?” Hopefully, he wouldn’t think too long or hard on my delayed quip.
“What’s got your tail in a bunch?”
I shoved my hands in the back pockets of my jeans and swallowed my relieved sigh. No tail. Good. Last thing I needed was to sprout a tail on Halloween at noon. “N-nothing. You’re always ‘blah, blah, blah, something’s wrong.’ Nothing’s going on.”
Mark arched his brow at me. “So what did that poor little leaf do to you?”
“It failed its calculus test twice.”
“Ouch.” Mark’s laugh rumbled. “I failed it four times, thank you very much. You haven’t killed me over it, not yet at least.”
“You pay me too well for me to kill you. Did you really ask me to come to New York City just to take me to the park? Normally, you’d have me tucked in your office sorting through the stack of papers breeding on your desk, cracking your whip like the evil overlord you like to think you are.”
“But you like parks. Would an evil overlord take his minions to the park?”
“It’s cold.” I sniffled, taking my hands out of my jeans to stuff them into my coat. My keys, cell phone, and wallet were still in the left pocket. I was with someone, and muggers didn’t tend to attack couples in the park during broad daylight.
“I can’t believe you brought me to New York on today of all days.” I nodded my head at the park, taking in the entirety of the city in a single gesture. Even in the relative peace of Grand Central, I could hear the bustle, the honk of horns, and the noise of the restless cityscape. Atlanta wasn’t much different downtown, but at least it was home.
“Oh, come off it, Allison. You like Halloween.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Maybe a little. I still can’t believe you brought me here, though.”
“Anyway, you owe me,” he said before clucking his tongue.
I winced. He had me dead to rights, and I knew it. Mark gathered favors and cashed them in like currency. Resisting was futile. “Rub it in my face, why don’t you?”
“Of course I will, but another time. I’m enjoying myself way too much right now. You’re mine for three whole days, like it or not.”
“I’m doomed,” I groaned.
I didn’t have the courage to tell him I meant it. It was bad enough it was Halloween. The full moon would reach its zenith after nightfall.
If I wasn’t careful, I was going to pop a tail for real. That would surprise him. It would also get me killed. I doubted the NYPD would appreciate a wolf running loose in the center of their city. “Seriously, Mark. What’s so important that you had to fly me in from Atlanta? I do have a job, you know. I’d even like to keep it.”
“You’re owed three weeks, and at the rate you’re going, they’re probably getting ready to force you to take the time off. The way I see it, I’ve done you a favor.”
“Mark,” I growled.
“Okay, fine. It’s Ma. I told her I had a girlfriend so she’d shut up about me getting married for a while. She wants to meet her. To meet you.”
I broke into a brisk walk, cutting across the grass towards one of the other paths through the park. With luck, he’d get grass stains on his pretty, blue business suit. “You brought me to New York to dress up as your girlfriend for Halloween?”
I guess it really was going to be a night for wearing masks and pretending to be the impossible. It was bad enough I would have to live the dream of having a boyfriend worth keeping, knowing I could never pursue a real relationship with him.
If I had a mother, I’m sure she would’ve been proud. I didn’t cuss, scream, or pitch a fit. I did keep walking without checking if Mark kept pace with me though.
He did. “Come on, Allison. I’ll make it up to you, I swear.”
“A Halloween party with your mother, Mark? Have you lost your mind? She’s never going to believe we’re a couple, for one. Two, you live in New York City. I live in Atlanta. You know, that place you flew me in from? She’s got no reason to believe us.”
“I might have told her that you are an old college friend, and we’d been seeing each other on and off since we got our degrees. It’s even true, just not for the reasons she thinks. Come on, Allison. It’s only for one night. You’ll save me from marrying a woman I’ve never met.”
I sighed. “Seriously? Did your mother have you betrothed or something? That’s so two hundred years ago. At least you had the decency to book me into a good hotel. How did you manage a room at the Plaza on such short notice?” Using my brown bangs as a shield, I stared at my friend. He grinned wolfishly.
“Who said it was on short notice? I had our room booked six months ago.”
I tripped over my own feet. A startled cry worked its way out of my throat. Mark’s arm slapped against my chest as he caught me. With a low grunt, he hauled me upright. “Careful.”
My face burned. “Sorry.” I drew a deep breath. Killing Mark in Central Park wouldn’t work—not during the daytime. There’d be too many witnesses. “Our room?”
“We’re twenty five. We’re young, healthy adults. There’s no way my ma will believe we’re a couple if we don’t share a room,” he replied. He leveled a scandalous leer in my direction, his gaze taking all of me in.
I flushed. “You have a perfectly nice condo, Mark. I’ve seen it. Why not invite me there instead of booking us a room in one of New York’s more expensive hotels?”
“Wait until you see the room,” Mark said. Then he waggled his eyebrows at me suggestively.
I closed my eyes, stood straight, and once again shoved my hands into my back pockets. No tail. That was a start. I counted to ten. Then I counted to ten again.
When that didn’t calm me down enough, I systematically considered all of Mark’s banking accounts I could probably hack my way into, calculating how much I could siphon off without him noticing. I wouldn’t do it, but the figure made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
When I managed to quell my urge to throttle my friend, I opened my eyes and glared at him. “You reserved the honeymoon suite, didn’t you?”
“Do try to act surprised when I propose. At least you have an easy line. Don’t worry. We’ll call off the engagement in a month or two.”
“Give me a reason I shouldn’t kill you in your sleep tonight.”
“I’m too good-looking to kill.”
“No.” It was a lie, but I wasn’t about to let him know that. I couldn’t fault his logic. We were friends, but we were professionals as well. It was just another business arrangement between us, and nothing more.
Mark couldn’t possibly be interested in me.
“I pay you exceptionally well for your accounting skills.”
“True, but no.”
“You like me?” His voice wavered, and I had to work to smother my grin.
“You sound so confident,” I murmured. “Fine. I like you. A little. I’ll do it, but you, dear Mark, will owe me.”
Mark’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “You wouldn’t really try to kill me, would you?”
I grabbed hold of his tie and yanked down so I could look him in the eyes. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “I wouldn’t bet your life on it, if I were you.”
The little color he did have fled from his face. I let him go and resumed walking across the park, whistling a merry tune.
If I had to play Mark’s call girl for Halloween, I’d teach him a thing or two about women. By the time I was finished with him, he’d have more than a few reasons to regret using me against his mother. At the very least, I’d make sure he never forgot how even a hillbilly girl like me could transform into a lady for one evening.
Maybe he thought he had the upper hand. Unfortunately for him, I had over a hundred years of experience on him. It made me feel old. Not just old, but ancient.
Still, for someone over a hundred and sixty years, I wasn’t in bad shape. To people like Mark, I was one of many in their twenties making their way in the world. I looked like them, and for the most part, I acted like them.
Our ‘relationship’ was nothing more than make-believe. Our friendship wasn’t much better off, either. Unfortunately, Mark didn’t know that, though he’d learn soon enough. I shook my head to clear it, staring down at my watch.
I glanced eastward, at the glass-lined wall of the jewelry store I was in. Shoppers hurried about their business in the broad mall hallways, chatting to each other or talking on their cell phones. Beyond the walls of the building, I could already feel the moon calling to me, birthing shivers under my skin. In a little over an hour, it would start to rise. I made a thoughtful sound, turning my attention back to the glass case in front of me.
It was a full moon on Halloween. Some people would don masks, confident in their superiority as humans, never realizing how close they’d tread to a violent and bloody end. Others would remove the masks they normally hid behind, rejoicing in their one night of freedom.
A sad few would have no idea what horrors they had sowed come morning.
I was in a lot of trouble. My fellow boogeymen didn’t frighten me all that much. It was Mark who worried me. Mark, as well as the other humans he’d subject me to before the night was done. I hadn’t lost control in years—I doubted Mark’s mother had been born since the last time it’d happened.
But that didn’t change the fact that it could happen.
Old or not, I was still a bitch. Others of my kind liked calling themselves Fenerec, but I called it as I saw it. I was a werewolf, and I was bad news for those around me. Without pack or mate, it was only a matter of time before I lost control.
Mark wouldn’t stand a chance, and when I finally lost my grip on sanity, I wouldn’t even remember killing him. More troubling was the slight chance my wolf would find him suitable as a mate. If she did, Mark would be hunted until the day he died. Why hadn’t I said no? Why had I agreed to travel to New York on Halloween? What had I been thinking?
I hadn’t been, and that was a big problem.
“Is there something I can help you with, miss?” A woman asked from beside me. I about jumped out of my skin.
Shit. I swallowed back my heart and improvised. Without really seeing the jewelry beneath the glass, I pointed at something shiny, hoping it was a necklace. “May I see that please?”
“That’s a very expensive piece, ma’am.”
I glanced at the woman out of the corner of my eye. A pastel pink blazer was matched with a pencil skirt that showed off thin legs and knee-high black boots. Glittering bracelets clung to her wrists. “Is that so?” I murmured, focusing my attention on the piece I pointed at.
Rubies and diamonds winked at me, woven together in a Celtic knot trapped in the center of a web of delicate, diamond-encrusted chains. My cheek twitched.
No wonder the woman was skeptical and eying me suspiciously. Here I was, in some luxury jewelry store poking around to waste time, dressed in a beat-up leather coat, a baggy sweater, and worn jeans splattered with mud from my walk in Central park. As my luck had it, I pointed at a necklace worth more than any car or house I’d ever seen in person, let alone owned.
I felt the eyes of every customer in the store settle on me. Great. Just what I needed. An audience.
Maybe I should’ve acted more indignant. Maybe I should’ve walked away. Instead, I took out my wallet, pulled out my black platinum Amex card, and tossed it on the counter. “May I see that please?”
The sales woman stared at the card and then at me, her eyes narrowing. “Do you really think I’m going to believe this is your card?”
Half of the customers in the store cleared out in the time it took the sales woman to pick up my card.
“Is there a problem?” A man dressed in a business suit stepped forward. His blue eyes took in my clothes before settling on the black credit card in his coworker’s hand.
The woman glared down her nose at me, her gaze settling on my beat-up jacket. “I do believe we have a stolen credit card here, sir.”
The manager snatched my credit card. “Is this true, miss?”
Oh hell no. I felt my cheek twitch again. “It’s not. I’ll just take my card to a different store, then.”
“I think this can be resolved quickly and easily, miss,” the man replied. He frowned at me. “Can I see your ID please?”
I showed him my license. The manager winced. “I’m sorry, but there have been a lot of theft of valuable jewelry lately by those with fraudulent credit cards and out-of-state driver’s licenses. This will only take a few minutes as I verify this is a real card.”
Well, at least he wasn’t going to call the police on me right away. I sighed. “Since when hasn’t my driver’s license been sufficient proof? What is this? LA?”
The saleswoman scowled at my comment.
Ignoring me, the man picked up a phone from behind the counter, checked the back of my credit card, and dialed.
“I can’t even believe this.” I tapped my driver’s license against the counter.
The sales woman sniffed before stalking away, probably hoping to salvage at least one of the fleeing customers.
The manager hummed, punching in numbers as he navigated through Amex’s phone system. “Ah, hello. I’d like to verify a credit card. I’m the manager of Lorindale Jewelers of New York, and a suspicious woman attempted to purchase one of our showcase pieces.”
“I just wanted to look at it,” I corrected.
Once again, I was ignored. I leaned against the glass and drew smiley faces on the clear surface.
“Yes. The name on the card is Allison Ferdinan. I can wait. Thank you.” The manager glared at me, cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder. He made a shooing gesture at me.
I ignored him. Leaving was looking like a better and better option. Replacing the black card was a phone call away. I’d probably have a new one within an hour, complete with complimentary help with buying whatever I wanted in the city.
I stared down at the necklace. It did match the gown I had purchased from a costume store specializing in vintage apparel. If I did buy it, I could sell it at a charity auction later. I wasn’t about to lose to some snobby manager.
Best of all, a wolf like me didn’t need to keep trophies. I grinned.
The hunt was on.
“Ah, yes. Hello. My name is Mr. Manwich. I’m the manager of Lorindale Jewelers of New York. I have someone here who has possibly stolen one of your customer’s platinum black cards.” There was a pause, then Mr. Manwich frowned.
I somehow managed not to laugh. “This is going to get sloppy, Joe.”
Someone behind me snickered.
“Yes. The name on the card is Allison Ferdinan. What is she wearing? Why are you asking me this?”
I scrunched my face and adopted the deepest, roughest voice I could manage, then said, “Is she wearing a leather coat that looks like it had seen better days back in the 1920s? That’s her.”
A few more people chuckled. The color drained from Mr. Manwich’s face. “Yes. I understand.” He hung up.
The man’s fear was bitter, sweet, and made my mouth water. I swallowed. Then I smiled. “I’m going to a party tonight, Mr. Manwich, and I need a necklace.”
Mr. Manwich made a horrified noise.
It took American Express less than twenty minutes to send a concierge. Samantha Morrison grinned at me, slinging a shiny black leather purse over her shoulder.
“Oh, god. They haven’t fired you yet?” I moaned, making a sign to ward me against evil.
Samantha laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m the only woman in this city who can handle you, Ms. Ferdinan.”
“A-L-L-I-S-O-N spells Allison,” I replied with flippant disregard to Amex’s rules on addressing clients, glancing down at my watch with a grin. “Twenty minutes. It’s a new record.”
“What can I say? When you’re good, you’re good, and I’m good.”
An hour later, I took pity on the manager. I bought the ruby and diamond necklace.
The full moon was rising, and I had bigger game to hunt.