Savage

an excerpt



Chapter One



Ludo stood, staring up at the building perched right on the edge of the sandy boardwalk. The longing expression in his eyes broke my heart. I had to admit, in that strange, smoky August moonlight, the stone wolves built into the exterior walls of the Venice Beach art gallery looked like they may come to life at any moment. We'd seen the wolves during the day and they held a certain intrigue, but at night, they radiated a feral power I was beginning to fear.

Their cemented bodies had a shimmer of iridescence, their eyes glowing red under the streetlamps.

"It's not that I don't love you," Ludo said, his gaze flicking back to me momentarily. "It's just primal. It's instinct. I miss my kind."

He dropped his head and wept.

There was nothing I could say, nothing I could do...except to retrieve the bottle of Old Creek Winery pinot noir from his hands before he dropped it.

His kind.

I shivered in spite of the heat. The smoke was coming from a backyard barbecue by the smell of it. I could detect sausages and chicken on the fumes wafting over to us. Our friends would be waiting but nothing mattered more than this man. I wanted to--no, I needed to be a part of this moment. Once again I felt shunned, frozen out because I really didn't know what it was like to be Ludo. I wanted to understand. I tried always to look at things from his point of view.

It wounded me that I would never be all things to him. Even normal men who loved their life partners knew this--the smart ones anyway--about the loves of their lives.

But I couldn't even come close since I was human and Ludo was only half a one. He got this way each time we cycled close to a full moon. He became fussy, bossy, cranky...filled with inexplicable longing. I would have been jealous had I not known that being a werewolf was his curse. A curse that, in his right mind, on his better days, he yearned to kick.

"Sweetie," he said, suddenly, lifting his beautiful face. "We'll be late."

This sort of...schizophrenic behavior was becoming common with my man. Erik Wise, my new partner at the West Los Angeles Police Division, had observed it over a Memorial Day barbecue. I'd come out to those closest to me at the station with mixed results, but Erik had been amazing. He and his wife Ana loved Ludo.

Everyone loved Ludo. With his dark, glossy hair, warm brown eyes and exotic good looks, not to mention his adorable Argentine accent, he'd become a hit with everyone I knew. The people I'd come out to knew he was my life partner but had no idea he was literally barking mad once a month.

I was just like the guy on Bewitched, married to a supernatural being. The urge to share the burden was strong, the knowledge that I couldn't even stronger.

Ludo had been getting worse lately, his fierce need, his...hunger to run with a pack. He'd never run with one. He'd swum a lake in his native Argentina with his friend on a dare, after hearing that it was cursed. Supposedly, people who swam across it became werewolves. Ludo and his friend both became werewolves. Ludo had lost touch with his friend, and whenever I broached the subject, he would become unglued.

In eighteen months, Ludo could shake the curse that enslaved him. If he could live for nine whole years without killing a human he could, according to legend, travel back home, swim the lake once more and be freed.

We just had to get to that point.

My lover gave me a quick, fierce kiss that held so much heat that I knew I was in for a damned good shellacking in bed that night. I, Cavan Carmichael, can only be honest and admit that this is one of the things that's kept me with my lovable lunatic. The crazier his lunar cycles get, the hotter our sex life becomes. When he's mean, he makes up for it in private. That's the one difference between me and my partner. Erik gets so little sex from his wife that I feel sorry for him.

So all in all, I think I'm coming out ahead in the game.

I'd saved Ludo's life last Halloween during what should have been a routine animal abuse call but was anything but. That had been almost a year ago. Eighteen more months of this and if the last few hellish months were anything to go by, I was gonna need a boatload of happy pills and a lot more wine to get through it.

Ludo took my hand and we walked a few doors down to Harry's house. Harry was the new boyfriend of Felicity Jones, one of my now closest friends and my favorite cop in the West LA division. Ludo knocked at the door and I saw a tiny shadow moving behind the frosted glass. I wasn't surprised when my lover's face lit up. He was already crouching to catch Ky Jones in his arms. Ky, at the age of seven, was Ludo's second favorite person after me. He was Felicity's son and I think, in his heart of hearts, Ky would have preferred his mom to be dating Ludo rather than her current boyfriend. He threw his arms around Ludo's neck now and hung on tightly to him.

I smiled, watching Ludo in the doorway holding the little boy. Ky was autistic and related to so few people well that Ludo was a godsend to the child. And to Felicity. She came running, her eyes showing the warmth she felt for my man.

"You're late," she said. "So not like you two. Did you have trouble parking?"

Ludo set Ky on his feet, but the little boy clung to his hand.

"They were looking at the wolves," Ky said, an impish grin on his face.

"How did you know that?" I glanced down at him. Sometimes Ky acknowledged me, sometimes he did not. This was one of the times when he did.

"I looked out the window," he said, hiding his face in Ludo's pant leg.

Ludo hefted the boy into his arms. Ky clung to him again.

"Those wolves are something, aren't they?" Felicity shook her head. "I swear sometimes they look real."

"Werewolves, Mommy." Ky gave her a serious glance. "They bite bad people at night."

Ludo's expression remained blank. He never reacted to people's interpretation of werewolves. Any discussion of them was irrelevant to him, because, as he always insisted, "They just don't know."

We walked through the house that showed signs of Felicity's methodical touch. She'd unpacked all the boxes Harry had kept stacked against every wall, a fact that his soon-to-be ex-wife had used against him in their vicious custody battle.

In the backyard, Harry was busy cooking. He gave us a friendly wave.

"Thanks for bringing everything over," he said, pointing to the meat and chicken. It had been my pleasure to do so. He'd been in family court all day dealing with his ex. From the sad look in his eyes the moment he turned back to the grill, I was guessing it hadn't gone so well.

A light-skinned African-American man, I liked Harry Stocker a lot. He was of medium height, had a compact body that could easily turn to fat but he would never let himself get that way.

I was dismayed to see my boss, the intensely irritating Sergeant Veo, lounging on Harry's newly varnished deck, beer in hand.

Veo gave me a cheery greeting. He was immensely interested in Ludo, having come to the crime scene the night I rescued him. I had taped the entire thing and given it to Veo as evidence. He'd immediately emailed it to the news media outlets. Though curiosity about "the naked, chained guy" or "shack guy" had died down since Ludo had maintained a very low profile, I was still pissed that Veo had exposed my lover to such extreme public scrutiny.

Ludo, however, was always polite to Veo. Some might say my sergeant is a handsome man with dark hair, a reasonable face, and very white Hollywood-style teeth, but knowing he is a total jerk negates any physical appeal he might have in my book.

"You guys did a nice job on the deck," Veo said. Ludo smiled. We'd spent all weekend helping Harry, a major crimes detective at the Pacific Division Police Department. His division covered many of the beach communities and suburbs like Mar Vista and Westchester, all of which have a high theft rate.

Felicity and Harry both had kids in the same class at school. Harry's soon-to-be ex-wife had pulled every stunt in the California Ex-Wives Club Handbook and Harry had almost visible emotional wounds to prove it. I didn't think he could meet a better woman than Felicity but she was smart enough not to push for more. Knowing he was broke but in need of a proper backyard to satisfy his ex-wife's demands for his son's weekend visits, she'd galvanized the guys at our station to help with the deck, some landscaping, and even some painting.

Harry had been unable to ask his own fellow officers since one of them was the man who'd run off with his wife. Loyalties were divided. I felt damned sorry for the man.

My partner, Erik, came over and gave me a bear hug. Ana was examining the grill, griping about the chicken and steaks I'd dropped off earlier.

"This is quality meat," Harry assured her as Erik shot me a grimace.

"Where did you buy these steaks?" she asked me. "They're all marbled with fat!"

I couldn't tell her that Ludo had picked those out. This was his new thing. Thick, marbled steaks cooked rare. In his words, he wanted them still mooing when he ate them.

"And they're so thick," she complained. "Do you want to have a heart attack for dinner?"

Ludo turned on me, his tone aggressive. "You were only supposed to get one steak like that. The rest were supposed to be lean and thin. Can't you remember anything?"

The attack stung. I'd come off a twelve-hour shift and had picked up the meat and chicken at his request and driven all the way to the beach with the food when what I'd really wanted to do was fall into bed.

"Sorry," I mumbled and reached into the cooler for a Dr Pepper. I didn't want to drink booze. I had a funny feeling about this night. A day away from the full moon. I'd been researching full moons a lot lately because of Ludo, and it was a known fact among police officers that full moons brought out the crazies. As one of the guys at the station once observed, "It's like somebody up there opens up all the cages."

I wasn't on call but I was on my own self-imposed standby.

For a moment, I allowed self-pity to wash over me as I popped the tab on the can and watched Ludo fussing over the steaks with Ana. She looked so unhappy. Man...this was supposed to be a celebration but nobody said a word. Ludo had been the same way at the Memorial Day barbecue, ripping into me in front of everyone about the chicken that time. Then he'd turned around and been utterly sweet. Suddenly, being a single man dealing with an increasingly difficult mother didn't seem so bad.

Glancing next door I noticed the wolves on the back of the building looked very menacing in the night light. I looked away again and caught Erik's sympathetic gaze. He came over, took me aside and said, "Let's check on our vegetable garden."

We walked along the side of the house, and he spoke in low tones.

"I see the bitchy thing's the same way with you homos. Geez...and I thought only women got their period."

Erik made me laugh. I didn't take offense at the word homo. At least he'd said it to my face. A newlywed, he always complained that Ana had two good days a month. According to him, between pre-menstrual stress, menstruation itself, then the days after that which were also inexplicably rough, his wife was a nightmare.

I was beginning to feel the same way about Ludo. I loved him. Adored him. But his lunar cycle...well, if I started to think of it as a sort of menstruation, then I could plan accordingly. Ludo, however, operated on a different lunar cycle than the rest of us. His cycle was a witches' one, which involved thirteen moons. My lucky day, eh? I got one extra moon to deal with, just for kicks.

I'd researched all of the moons and was hoping that things wouldn't get worse. I just kept trying to cope. It wasn't easy with a fulltime job, my increasingly dotty mother, and my shape-shifting boyfriend. I began keeping a lunar calendar and discovered that like Ana, Ludo could be a snarling bitch for almost an entire month.

Erik clapped my shoulder. "I was kinda jealous of you when you told me you were gay. I thought you wouldn't have to put up with all the crap the rest of us do, but now I see you do."

"Thanks...I guess."

"Don't mention it. You know what they say, misery loves company."

I laughed, but I wondered, was he miserable?

"We haven't had sex in twelve days." He took a slug of his beer. "She's had the world's longest-running headache."

Dang. I won't tell him our sex life is through the roof. We're smoking hot!

I heard the patter of tiny feet and turned to smile at Ky as he trotted down the path toward us. He was wringing his hands, one of his customary habits. He did this often with his mother's hand cream and was also known to slide his hands into paper bags and scream like a banshee if she tried to remove them.

Ky was the only one Ludo never got mad at, but Ky was a sensitive soul and surprised me when he came out of his private world and noticed things.

"Don't be sad," he said to me. He stopped wringing his hands and reached up for a hug. I held him tightly and he felt so thin in my arms. He ate so little and his specific dietary fetishes meant each and every meal was an ordeal. The kid wouldn't eat anything. He liked chicken...sometimes. Then he'd hate it. He liked hamburgers one day, spat them out the next.

Ludo came looking for us. "I've barbecued some shrimp for you, Ky, come and taste them for me, sweetheart."

The child wriggled out of my arms and raced along the path. Erik and I followed. Ludo took his hand just as Ky was about to start wringing them again, picked him up and deposited him at the picnic table.

"They look good," my cloddish Sergeant Veo said, reaching down to Ky's plate. I let Ludo slap his hand away. I wished he'd slapped him harder. Veo was such an ass. When Felicity had asked her squad members to help with the backyard, the only one who hadn't shown up was Veo, citing a back injury. I noticed that didn't stop him playing golf that weekend. He'd posted the photos all over Facebook.

"Here, Cavan, taste this." Ludo was all lovey-dovey now, holding a charred shrimp to my lips.

"This is so good!" Ky squealed, looking up from his plate. Ludo had struck gold once again. I saw three shrimp tails on Ky's plate and a fourth on its way to demolition. I bit into the shrimp Ludo gave me. It was amazing.

"You are such a good cook," Ana said, her grumpiness back in place. "How'd you do it?"

"We went to a cooking class together," Felicity said. "But he didn't need it. He was just being kind."

"You went to a class...why didn't you tell me? I would have gone!" Ana wailed. She and Felicity tended to fight over him a little, but Ludo loved it. So did I. I had a dreadful inclination toward jealousy and preferred women to be fighting over him than men.

Ludo grinned at Ana. "You were on your honeymoon, sweetie."

"Oh."

"So you'll come next time!" Ludo picked some charred Brussels sprouts off the grill with the Rösle Curved Grill Tongs we'd given Harry as a garden-warming present. Harry put all the steaks onto plates and the chicken onto a platter.

"Try this, Ky. It tastes just like candy, I promise." He popped the charred half of a Brussels sprout onto the kid's plate. Ky only ever ate with a spoon and he shoveled the vegetable in his mouth.

"That's good," he said, looking surprised.

The women began to fuss over him, trying to pile stuff onto his plate.

"I'm not hungry," Ky said and skipped off down the path singing to himself, wringing his hands as he went.

Felicity looked crestfallen.

"God, I'm sorry," Ana said. "I got so excited when he started eating."

Ludo said nothing. For once I wasn't the object of his ire. I hoped.

"He won't eat anything I make," Harry muttered to me. "I got so excited when he ate those shrimps."

I didn't know what to say. So far, it was shaping up to be a fiasco of a celebration.

Ludo picked off more pieces of vegetable, putting them onto a plate.

"If we got these in a restaurant, we'd pay a pretty penny for them," Felicity said. She picked up one and chewed it. "Mmm...sweet, crunchy and then savory. This is really delicious. Try one, Steve."

She turned to Veo, whose cell phone rang. He sat, staring at the readout for so long that it attracted everyone's attention. His gaze went from the phone to me, to Ludo, back to the phone, and back to Ludo.

"What is it?" Ludo asked, sounding tense.

Veo shook his head. "I don't even know how to tell you this. But unit three just found another man chained up at the back of Luke Masterson's property. They say he's in real bad shape."