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Call of the highland moo.., p.1
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       Call of the Highland Moon, p.1

         Part #1 of The MacInnes Werewolves series by Kendra Leigh Castle
Call of the Highland Moon
Page 1

  Chapter One


  Gideon MacInnes stood before the open window, inhaling the biting mid-December wind, savoring it as though it were the most intoxicating midsummer’s breeze.

  Run with me, it whispered.

  But was it safe?

  He closed his eyes and tilted his head back slightly, his shaggy fall of dark brown hair just grazing the tops of his shoulders with the motion, and scented the lay of this place. It was at once unfamiliar and yet not so very unlike the land, an ocean away, he called home.

  Gideon’s nostrils flared slightly. Pine. Wood smoke. The rich, earthy smell of decaying leaves. The temptation of a lone, foraging deer. And underneath it all, winding like a ribbon through each singular aroma, the unmistakable promise of snow. Judging by the heaviness of the air, there would likely be more than any of the locals would like by morning, even as accustomed as they were to spending close to half the year at winter’s mercy. He really ought to go, Gideon knew, if he didn’t want to find himself stranded for a few extra days. Especially when he’d just gotten off the phone after announcing his decision to return home at last. But then again …

  Gideon opened his eyes, once more scanning the grounds of the small, luxurious inn he had selected specifically for its privacy. Then, satisfied, he trained his unnaturally golden gaze on the darkness of the woods that very nearly surrounded this place.



  Gideon shrugged off the simple button-down shirt already hanging open on his muscular frame, feeling his skin prickle at its contact with the open air. Already he could feel his blood rising with a kind of savage joy that he had not felt, had not allowed himself to feel, since fleeing Scotland some two months before as though the hounds of Hell were snapping at his heels.

  What on earth had possessed him to think he needed the city? Gideon wondered as he slid his favorite pair of faded, weather-beaten jeans down over taut, sinewy muscle to the floor. He had tried them all, and fled them all just as quickly as he had run to them. Los Angeles. New York. Las Vegas. Chicago. All of them the same. He could admit, now that he was thousands of miles away from the man, that his father may have had a point when he’d accosted his resolute son on his way out the door.

  “Go, then, you stubborn fool, and you’ll see exactly what it is you’re missing, what’s in all of this ‘life’ you think is passing you by. Too much light. Smells to send you running for the bathroom. Sound so that it could deafen a normal man. And though you may hate it, Gideon, you aren’t a normal man, and never will be. What they call ‘civilization’ was never intended for the likes of us. Blessing and curse our lot may be, but you’ll have to accept it. What’s in you isn’t about to give you a choice. ”

  Gideon fought down a snap of temper as the image of Duncan MacInnes rose in his mind, glaring at him as though he were nothing but a petulant, stubborn child and all but wagging his finger at him as he gave his parting shot.

  “Some things are more important than sowing your own bloody oats, lad. I might have expected this from your brother, but you … well, have your time, then. But if you even dare to think you’re pushing this off on Gabriel, let that be followed quickly by the memory of who taught you to hunt. I’ll haul your sorry carcass back by the scruff of your neck, make no mistake. Now. Come and give your da a hug, then. ”

  So like Duncan, Gideon thought with a shake of his head as he straightened, fully nude in the biting air. The threat of a whipping, and then gruff affection. It had taken only a couple of rather painful lessons in Gideon’s teenage years for him to understand that Duncan meant both. His brother, however … well, Gideon didn’t think Gabriel had quite figured it out yet, which might explain why he was still intent on acting so consistently like a damned idiot. That, and the fact that Gabriel didn’t want the Guardianship any more than Gideon had. Gideon might have been the accursedly firstborn, but Gabriel, knowing Gabriel, probably considered his continuing irresponsibility in any and all facets of life as just one more bit of insurance that it would never fall to him.

  He also, thought Gideon with a grimace, got to have a great deal more fun, and would continue to if things continued on their present path.

  “Ah, well,” Gideon sighed softly as he lifted his eyes to the glowing silver of a moon not a week from reaching her fullness. “Might as well enjoy my taste of freedom, then, while I have it. ”

  He’d been brooding ever since he’d gotten to the States, trying to decide what was best to be done when, in his heart of hearts, he’d known all along he was fighting a losing battle. In city after city, his heart had done nothing but ache for the wild places, the things he had been so eager to leave behind. The great sights Gideon had dreamed of seeing had not moved him. The novelty of having multitudes of women from which to choose, rather than a handful, had not enticed him as he’d thought they would, plentiful and willing though they were. And in truth, he thought with a rueful twist of his mouth, skulking about public parks when the Change came upon him, in fear of being shot by some well-meaning officer with a tranquilizer gun and waking up in a local zoo, had been a rather humbling experience.

  The fact that he had finally gravitated to this little town on the edge of Lake Ontario in rural Northern New York, a place both beautiful and forbidding due to the harshness of its climate, was most telling of all. And so it had finally prompted his decision, and the call. After all, it was the place that reminded him most of home.

  And there was a sort of peace in accepting that, Gideon decided as he relaxed his muscles. His golden gaze sharpened, becoming oddly predatory before he dropped his lids, thick black lashes twining together, and willed the beast within to the surface. It wasn’t as though the idea of running herd on a pack of Highland werewolves really bothered him, nor even the weight of the responsibility of guarding the Stone. For if he, who had been groomed for the task his entire life, declined, then to whom would it fall? Gabriel had declared himself unfit whether or not it was true, and the thought of Malachi taking over would chill the blood of any sane person. No, Gideon thought, it wasn’t as though his lot was really so objectionable. The only question was, then, could he learn to live permanently with the restlessness that had been gnawing at him steadily for the past few years?

  Since the one thing that might assuage it was looking less and less likely to ever materialize, Gideon supposed he would have to accept it, make his peace with it, and find contentment where he could.

  He’d start tonight—right now.

  Running had always been his freedom, and his peace … as was the wolf.

  After years of practice, Gideon’s inner beast came quickly when it was bidden. Despite humankind’s multitude of amusing misconceptions about his kind, the truth was that while the Change was unavoidable at the full moon, he could shift by force of will at any of her phases. Although his powers wouldn’t be at their full strength at this time of month, Gideon was still, and always, a formidable adversary, so there was little fear of being overtaken by humans. Most of his pack Changed fairly often, really, if only for a quick run, or simply for the sheer joy of it. He had been no different.

  Was still no different, it would seem.

  There was a burning pleasure as flesh stretched and shifted, as bone shortened and changed. Claw and tail, fur and fang sprouted as Gideon dropped to the floor, pain blending with the pleasure of release, just as always when he opened himself to his true nature. Within moments, the figure that had been a dark, brawny Scotsman had been replaced by that of a large and powerful wolf with fur the color of midnight and uncanny amber eyes that seemed to give off a preternatural glow. Its muscles bunched. With one
single, powerful leap, the massive beast was through the second-story window and racing across the hard-packed snow into the embracing shadows of the forest.

  Gideon’s thoughts became simpler, more directed, his emotions clearer as what he always thought of as his wolf-sense took over. He was all lean grace and strength as he bounded into the welcoming trees, his senses sharpening, almost frightening in their acuity. When Gideon ran through the forest, he became the forest.

  The creatures of the wood scattered from his path and then stilled, not wanting to betray their locations with a sound. This was an ancient beast that ran among them now, and while they had never encountered one of his kind, their blood knew his. It should have been, had always been, glorious. And yet …

  There was a strange and sinister current slithering through this darkness. Some odd, bitter tang he had never tasted in every breath of arctic air. It enveloped Gideon as he pushed himself forward, spurring him on even as the night thickened around him. His father’s voice whispered through his mind, words that had been spoken in warm invitation. Now, with Gideon’s blood rising until it thundered in his ears, those same words became a sly taunt.

  Or a plea.

  “That’s a good lad, Gideon. Hurry home, then. ”

  Hurry home …

  Hurry home …

  It was a cadence in his mind as he ran, loping through the underbrush with the snap of dried branches and the velvety crush of snow beneath his paws as the only other music in the muffled quiet of the winter night.

  A picture formed in his mind of the bright orb of the full moon scattering her light across the gentle waves of Loch Aline, the sheltering darkness of the Highlands behind him, the Sound of Mull beyond him, her islands cradling the ancients and their secrets still. Both sides of him, human and wolf, reached toward home in that moment. In his mind’s eye, the pine canopy above him vanished to reveal nothing but the millions of stars above as he imagined running along a distant water’s edge.

  It was an image that had always brought him joy. But tonight, the thought of home made his heart swell with an almost frantic grief. It made no sense. He had lost nothing. But the ache intensified until Gideon finally sought the only release he knew. Upon reaching a small clearing in the trees, he skidded to a stop, threw back his majestic head, and howled. And for the first time in his life, his song was one of purest desolation. Purest pain.

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