Ah, la bella luna … the beautiful moon was hanging so low and ripe in the sky that I could feel its pull on the ninety-eight percent of me that was made up of water, passion, and zestiness. There was no escaping its spell and it was driving me wild. That juicy moon seemed to be leading me right to Marco’s house, like the heavenly Christmas star.
I briefly shut my eyes against its temptation as I sped down the road. I knew I had to focus and get down to business. Tomorrow was the day we took on the developers at the zoning hearing. My boss, Marco Consqueelie, used emotion and zeal, but I preferred a more informed approach, sticking as many facts as possible into his hairy head. Files brimming over with studies and compelling arguments were my weapons against injustice. I was a tree-hugger from the Ivy League.
My tires crunched up onto the driveway and I cut the engine. Marco’s off-the-grid, green livin’ cabin looked like nothing less than a ramshackle stable nestled deep in the woods. Silvery rays slanted down onto a roof that needed a few new shingles and highlighted the rough, irregular surface of the salvaged wood of its walls. There was no one around for miles.
The steady west wind enlivened the myriad chimes that hung on the front porch and dangled from the trees around the home. Deep gonging chimes intoned from long pipes and harmonized with high tinkling notes from metal and glass. A crisp scent was in the air: pine, wood smoke and a hint of musk. It smelled a lot like Marco and that made my stomach flutter. I supposed I had a little crush on my idealistic boss.
I crossed the porch and knocked on the door. Other than the light of the moon, the place was dark. I knocked again more firmly.
“Marco, It’s Claire. I’m sorry I’m late,” I called out. Marco was laidback about things like fashion, money, and paying his taxes, but he was always punctual.
I pushed open the door, which of course was not locked. Marco was not concerned with anyone stealing his collection of 1960’s vinyl or his hemp clothing, even if some of his wardrobe could technically be considered antique.
“Is anyone home?” I called.
No answer was returned. Prickly unease ran up the back of my neck. A strong gust shook a clanging cacophony from the chimes and the back door banged free on its hinges. Wind swirled around the room, flipping papers and moving the curtains. Suddenly a throaty howl rose above the other sounds of the night, rattling the window panes. I wanted to leave but the dark house seemed slightly safer than the wild outside.
Hands outstretched, I inched through the room, feeling my way for a light switch. The back door gave a final crash and was still, as if it had slammed itself shut. I sensed that something had come in through the door and was in the house with me. My breath caught in my chest and my heart pounded. The creature, or whatever it was, moved with innate stealth. I wedged my car keys between my knuckles and backed toward the door as silently as I could.
I heard an angry growl... I had been discovered.
A sudden flood of light and a clatter of glass came from the kitchen and I gasped out loud. The brightness was quickly extinguished and I heard footsteps. Something had changed and It wasn’t moving quietly anymore. Terror ripped through my chest. Screaming was pointless, there was no one to hear me.
I was too vulnerable in the dark and I groped blindly around, fingers finding the switch on a lamp. I turned it with an audible click. Warm light flooded the room.
“Turn off the light, Claire,” an irritated voice commanded and I inhaled sharply.
It was Marco and the tone of his voice was nothing new. He had been prone to mood swings lately.
Unthinking, I obeyed and plunged the room back into darkness. His breath came heavily, in and out, as if he had been running.
Anger surged through me, fueled by the adrenaline of fear. Defiantly, I clicked the light back on.
“Marc, didn’t you hear me knock? You just scared me half to death,” I said sharply. “We are going to need the light. I came here to work, not have a séance.” I paused and added, “Besides, there are wild animals out there.”
He groaned and emerged from the kitchen, swigging a Sam Adams. I gawked at him as he stepped into the light. It was not just that he was drinking-that was weird enough. I had never seen him imbibe anything stronger than pomegranate juice, which is heavy on the antioxidants but not on the intoxicants– it was that my normally hairy boss was really, really, really hairy. Put me in the zoo hairy. My fight or flight instinct kicked in. Actually, my mom called mine a “fight or fight” instinct since I never gave up. I clutched my bulging laptop bag, ready to whack him with it. This would be a good time for a tranquilizer dart, I thought.
My job interview with Marco had taken place in a canoe and it was the first time I had met him. I was immediately struck by his beautiful brown eyes. I previously thought that brown eyes, like my own, fell into the realm of mud, dirt, and if you were being really kind, chocolate. Marco’s eyes were so bright they seemed almost orange, shot with gold, with a deep black inner ring. His eyes gave him a constantly fierce look, as if he was focusing on his prey in the distance. When those eyes fixed on me, I had to struggle to remain coherent.
It wasn’t just the eyes that were distracting; his body was fantastic in the outdoorsy, muscular way I liked, not like a body builder in front of a mirror. As he helped me into the canoe it was evident that his grooming was detracting from his appeal. An obscuring bushy beard frustrated any effort to gauge Marco’s facial structure. The beard itself was not repulsive by any means. It looked clean and exactly matched the dark brown of his long hair, which was pulled back in an indifferent ponytail. His hair was thick and healthy, but it looked like his hairstyle strategy was to hack off most of the ponytail once a year, whether it needed it or not, possibly with the Swiss Army Knife I saw protruding from the back pocket of his shorts. Since our first meeting, I had spent a surprising amount of my free time wondering what he looked like under all that hair and sincerely wishing there was less of it.
As he expertly guided the canoe through the slow water, Marco explained that his group was the only thing stopping the development that threatened to destroy the habitat. Passion filled in his eyes as he spoke and I was entranced. We arrived at the place where the bulldozers loomed, casting an unnatural reflection on the creek. There were gashes in the earth, darkened water, and choked weeds. His protests had stilled the machines only temporarily and I resolved to help any way could.
We floated downstream to Marco’s favorite spot where the water lapped gently and dragonflies buzzed and hovered. My tensions evaporated under the sun. He seemed proud to share this beautiful place with me and delighted that I loved it, too. We sat in reverent silence and I felt a comfort with the man and the place that I had not felt in a long time.
“Rest your spirit in this solitary place,” he said, speaking my thoughts perfectly.
I was undone.
I told him I wanted the job and he hired me on the spot without hesitation.
But on this night there was no peace in his orange eyes. They were aflame with a savage light and coarse fur-like hair covered most of his face and neck, transforming him into something not quite human. His hands and bare feet were furry and matted with dirt and grass. The muscles in his arms were corded with tension, his fingers curled into claws. I backed away as he swiveled his head towards me and sniffed the air. Defensively I clutched the laptop bag, my mind straining to make sense of what I was seeing.
Marco stalked to the window and yanked the blinds down to blot out the moon which had been peering into the room like a watchful eye. With a muttered curse, he flopped into a chair and drained his beer. Then he leaned forward and fixed me in his fierce gaze, taking in my shocked expression and the way I was clutching the bag.
“Don’t you want to run screaming?” he asked and the mass of hair above his eyes lifted as if he was arching one or maybe two eyebrows. It was hard to tell, the hairs had conjoined in the grand-daddy of all unibrows.
My grotesquely transformed boss sprawled before me in his hairy splendor. I had a million questions, but all I could blurt out was, “Since when do you drink beer?”
He snorted and smiled. His teeth were comfortingly normal. “I knew you were a good hire. The beer was from a party last week.”
I put down the bag and sat in the nearest chair. I didn’t think the beer was helping, but he seemed to be in control of his faculties. The sexual attraction that normally sparked when I was with Marco was greatly diminished by the all the fur.
I leaned cautiously closer and examined him. “You aren’t going to bite me, are you?” I asked.
He did not answer my question.
“Am I freaking you out?” he asked, holding his breath as he waited for my answer.
I opted for a cocky tone. “Oh, please! Do you know who you are dealing with? I’ve got Buffy in my DVD and Lestat and Edward by my bed right now. I’m no stranger to the paranormal.”
Truth be told, I was bluffing. It is one thing to read about and sort of believe in the strange but true, but it is another thing altogether to be in the room with it … alone … in the woods. My practical side begged to leave, but the other ninety-eight percent of me was too fascinated to go. My mind kept racing for answers. After a minute of horrified silence I dared to ask the burning question.
“Are you some kind of werewolf?”
“I have no idea. I don’t know what the hell I am anymore. Nothing makes any sense.” He buried his head in his hands for a moment and I held still, waiting for him go on.
When he lifted his head his voice was strained with emotion. The pull of his gaze was magnified intensely and my thoughts scattered.
“Lucky for me, my older brother warned me that something like this happened to him on the full moon after he turned twenty-five. Apparently it runs in the family.”
“Oh yeah, Wednesday was your birthday. Happy Birthday,” I said.
He was in no mood to celebrate.
Some measure of prudence returned to me. “Is this going to get worse? Are you going to go fully wolf?” I asked warily.
He sighed again and absently stroked the hair on the back of his hand. “From what I’ve been told, it escalates over the next few nights. I’m planning on locking myself in the bedroom instead of going howling at the moon. For tonight, the hair seems to have stopped growing. This timing absolutely sucks,” he said furiously, pounding his fist on the chair. “Tomorrow is our big day.”
He didn’t have to tell me. We had once chance in front of the zoning board and if we blew it the bulldozers would roll and there would be nothing we could do to stop them. I took a shaky breath.
“We have a lot of work to do to get you ready. It’s time to shed,” I said in the best confident voice I could muster.
Marco shook off his lassitude and sprung up from the chair energetically. I flinched at his sudden movement, defensively raising my hands. He pulled back and took a deep breath, making a visible effort to relax.
“I can do this if you help, Claire,” he said gently. “Tomorrow is too important for me to quit. I really should have called and told you not to come when I saw how bad it was getting, but I guess I wanted you here. I’m sorry.”
I stood up and took a hesitant step towards him. “You know I care about the project too. I’ll help.” I paused and assessed his disheveled appearance.
“Makeover first. Work Second,” I said definitively. “You get a shower while I fortify myself with a beer.”
While he showered, I got a drink and found a decent pair of scissors before spreading the file out on the kitchen table and plugging in my laptop. My mind was racing and I could not concentrate on the documents. When Marco returned, his wet hair was hanging down his back and he was wearing running pants and a beat up T-shirt. He had done a decent job at hacking the worst of the fur. At least his hands looked reasonably normal and his beard was down to an acceptable length for a member of a bluegrass band. His eyebrows and hair remained untamed and his eyes were still wild as they looked at me. I felt a little shiver down my spine.
“Not half bad, huh,” he said. “I think this will work.”
Trying to be sensitive to his male ego, I took a gentle approach. “I think there is some room for improvement. Lucky for you I’ve been cutting my brother’s hair for years. We should definitely go a little shorter just in case it grows more.” I drove the final argument home, “Plus, you want to look as professional as possible in front of the zoning board tomorrow.”
He shrugged, acquiescing. At least for the moment, I was in charge.
“Why don’t I set up in here?” I suggested. I had never been back to his bedroom and didn’t feel safe enough to venture back there now. “Can I use your clippers?”
He went to get them and I fished a comb and brush out of my bag. After a moments hesitation, I slipped out of my silky blue shirt. I had a tank top underneath and I didn’t want to get hair all over my good clothes. I twisted my long red hair into a knot to keep it back from my face. Marco’s gaze lingered on my bare skin when he returned, but his look grew wary at the sight of the scissors. I tried to keep it businesslike.
“Sit here,” I directed, dragging out a chair with a creak. There was no mirror in the room, which was good. I didn’t want him critiquing my work.
I took a deep breath and made the first cut. About twenty inches of dark hair hit the floor.
“You know, I usually just put my hair in a ponytail and cut it,” he said.
“Really?” I kinda guessed. “It’s too thick. Fortunately these scissors are sharp. This is going to take a while.”
His shampoo had that fresh green scent that I remembered, but the musky smell was definitely coming from him and it was very appealing. It made me feel warm and flustered. Marco was quiet as I battled my way through the forest of hair, occasionally brushing up against him. Each time I touched him I felt a little thrill of electricity fizzle through me.
“I’m going a lot shorter than you usually do. It’s going to be a style, not just hair on your head,” I warned, a little breathless.
“I’m not into the GQ look,” he pointed out needlessly.
“Yes, Marc, I gathered that,” I teased him. “Anyway, judging from what you say, it will all grow out tomorrow night.”
“Good point.” He smiled up at me. “Can I read over the file while you are doing this?”
“No, I need you to hold still.”
“Whatever you say, I know it all anyway. I just needed an excuse to get you out here.” His look was mischievous.
My heart beat a little faster.
I was pretty proud of my handiwork. Marco was blessed with good, thick, slightly curly hair, so any imperfections in my cutting technique were masked by his tousled waves. I ran my fingers through his hair once or twice more than I needed to and he closed his eyes at my touch. He reached around to rub the back of his neck.
“It’s OK if you want to take off your shirt,” I said. “I’m going to use the clippers now and it will make a mess.” I went to the sink to rinse off the scissors and my comb and splash water on my face. I needed to cool down.
“Yeah, I think I will,” he said, going to the bathroom and returning shirtless with a towel draped around his shoulders.
“Please tell me there is not hair all over my back,” he said, turning his back to me. “I’m afraid to look.”
“No fur,” I squeaked out.
His back didn’t have hair and it was the kind of muscular back I’d like to run my hands over. My little crush was blooming into full fledged lust. I tried to control the urges within me. Maybe he had given me some reason to think he was interested. I had noticed some burning stares from him and we had spent more after hours work time than was strictly necessary. But for the most part he had always treated me very professionally.
Up till now.
As I carefully trimmed his eyebrows, my chest was at eye level. His orange eyes burned bright as they traced my body and he gave a wicked smile.
I call it like I see it. “That was a smirk, or maybe even a leer. Shut your eyes.”
He obeyed but didn’t have the grace to look embarrassed. I used the trimmer on his neck, letting my knuckles brush his silken skin, and then took the beard down as close as I could with his clippers, which had grown decidedly dull from all their efforts this evening. I realized I was holding my breath and he was, too. I stepped back.
“OK, that’s about all we can do for now,” I said. “You’ll have to shave in the morning. I think you should plan to just get rid of the beard fully.”
My mouth was dry and I really wanted another beer, but I was determined to keep my wits about me. He ran his fingers through his short hair, tousling it further and continued to stare in a way that was making heat rush deep inside me.
“I think I’ll do it now,” he said and his voice was deep and sensual.
I gasped, guessing at his meaning.
“I’m going to go ahead and shave. Um, I mean if you don’t mind waiting. I’m a little hair averse at the moment. I feel so much lighter now.”
I took deep calming breaths and looked at the floor. It’s no wonder he feels lighter, I thought, we have the fur of a mid-sized husky on the ground.
“It’s about ten o’clock now, I can stay for a little longer. Just make it snappy,” I said and he hustled off.
When he returned, holding his shirt, his freshly exposed face was better than my fantasies.
“Feel this,” he said, pressing my hand against the planes of his cheek. It was warm and only the slightest bit rough against my palm as he rubbed my hand firmly upwards against his skin. I felt the heat bloom in my cheeks as the blush I had been resisting fought its way to the surface.
Marc noticed. His pupils dilated and he slowly released my hand, trailing his fingers across mine gently. He swallowed.
“I’m sorry if I am making you uncomfortable,” he said softly, shaking out his T-shirt and pulling it on.
I shrugged, not trying to deny what was obvious. No harm in feeling a little uncomfortable, I thought, anyone would. Doesn’t mean he knows I have a crush on him. I tried to compose myself and shake off the ache that was building inside of me.
My conflicting emotions must have played on my face, maybe Marco thought I was afraid, because he got business-like. He pulled out a kitchen chair and began flipping through the files.
“Do you have the environmental impact study here?” he asked.
His attitude was just what I needed to control myself. I pulled the file and sat down at the laptop, unable to read the words on the screen. Against my will, my eyes were drawn to him. The angles of his face were masculine perfection and his mouth was sensual. He seemed to be intent on the document, but he kept reaching up to run his fingers through his newly short hair. I wanted to slide my fingers into that hair and pull his mouth down on mine. I wanted to feel his hands on my skin.
This was not working. I logged out and shut the computer down. It was time for me to go. I was not running away, strictly speaking, I was just taking my hormones elsewhere. He looked up quickly in surprise as I stood up and slapped the laptop shut, fumbling and shoving it into my bag.
“Marco, I should get going,” I said hastily. “I’ll leave the files here. Meet you there tomorrow around nine thirty.”
He stood up and caught my fluttering hands in his, holding them gently to still me. I looked up at him nervously, afraid he would see the desire in my eyes.
“Hey, I did freak you out, tough girl,” he said, gently pushing my hair back from my face. “I’m so sorry. Do you have post traumatic stress disorder or something?”
He had it so wrong, but I didn’t correct him. He was looking at me intensely. My hands trembled a little and he felt it.
With a groan, he pulled me against his hard chest. The cotton of his shirt was so thin and soft it didn’t shield my cheek from the heat of his skin. That was definitely not helping my self control. My arms wanted to wrap around him but I wouldn’t let them.
He rested his cheek against my head and said against my hair, “Clairey, it’s OK, I would never hurt you. You are safe with me.” His arms tightened around my waist, pressing my softness against his body. I felt his heartbeat accelerate under my cheek and a brush of heat as his hand slid up my back. Involuntarily, I snuggled closer to him and closed my eyes, breathing in his delicious scent. His hand stilled and he seemed to be holding his breath.
“Did you just call me Clairey?” I asked with a smile, trying to break the tension between us.
He pulled back and gave me such a bashful look that I almost laughed. His expression did not match his manly face, it belonged on a little boy caught feeding his dinner vegetables to the dog.
“Did I say that out loud?” he asked ruefully.
“Yep.” I paused. “Could happen to anyone. I like it.”
“It’s how I think of you sometimes,” he said, his voice low and gentle. I was still so close I had to tilt my head back to look into his eyes. My hair slid out of the twist and rippled down my back. He put his hand on my head and stroked downward, twining his fingers in the strands.
“Your hair is definitely longer than mine now,” he murmured.
Our eyes were locked and I couldn’t look away. The feeling of his hand in my hair was unbelievable and he was so close. One small step and we’d be chest to chest again. I backed up as he stepped forward. Marco briefly closed his eyes and then lifted his hand from my hair. I shoved my hands into my pockets.
He exhaled deeply as he stepped back and I felt the loss of our close contact like a physical pain, a craving not fully met. He averted his eyes from me and held his arms close to his sides. His shoulders were knotted with barely leashed energy.
“I won’t ask you to stay,” he said, his voice filled with frustration. “Maybe it is safer if you go.”
I scooted out of kitchen, acutely aware of the precise location of his body behind me. When he opened the latch, the moonlight gushed into the narrow doorway. It covered us both and Marco let out a low agonized groan. His hands curled into fists and heat pulsed from him in dizzying waves. The wolf wildness leapt up in his eyes.
“Claire, I don’t want to scare you,” he said and his voice was hoarse as if his throat was raw.
His jaw was clenched so tightly, I could see the muscles flexing. He reached out a trembling hand as if to push me away but when his hand touched my skin, raw desire flared in his eyes. With a moan, he pulled me frantically against him. I reveled in the crush of our bodies, curling my arms around his neck as he lifted me up against his chest. White heat touched every place within me as Marco pressed his lips against mine firmly, sliding his tongue along the seam of my lips. I opened my mouth to him, threading my fingers through his hair to pull his head closer, kissing him back.
His arms around me quivered and he slipped his hand up the back of my shirt, stroking his fingers along my spine and sending waves of excitement through my skin. His kisses deepened and grew more urgent as he pressed me against the open doorway, shielding my back with his arm. I flung my head back as he trailed his lips down my neck. Hot primal lust raced through my veins and I arched my back to push my hips closer to him as pressure built inside me. Tension bunched his shoulders as he held me and I dug my fingers into his muscles, desperate to feel his skin on mine.
“Come inside, stay with me,” he whispered against my throat, sliding me against his body and creating delicious friction.
“No,” I said through swollen lips. I rubbed them with my fingers, feeling their softness.
He slipped my feet back to the floor and looked at my kiss bruised lips, my flushed cheeks and the pulse beating in my throat. Confident in the desire he saw, he lowered his head purposefully to persuade me to change my mind.
“You aren’t scared,” he said, stroking his tongue lightly along my lower lip as his hands slid with torturous slowness around to the sensitive nape of my neck. “You want me, too.”
“No,” I said again, firmly, putting my hands on his chest. His heart pounded like it was trying to break free but he stopped, holding himself tightly in control with great effort, stilling his fingers in my hair.
I rubbed my body against him and stood on tiptoe to brush my lips against his ear. “Not in here,” I whispered as a shiver rippled through him. “I want to be with you outside in the moonlight.”
Marco’s eyes blazed and he swept me up into his arms. My head fell back against his shoulder.
“Hurry,” I urged as he moved swiftly to lay me down on the soft ground.
The wind had gentled to caress my skin. Marco’s head and shoulders were silhouetted against the white of the moon as he lowered himself beside me. His hand stroked the length of my body and I arched up towards him.
“So beautiful … bella mia … bella mia,” he whispered as he leaned down to kiss me breathless.
“La bella luna,” I sighed.