Crescent Moon (Chapter 29)
However, I did want to scout the area and figure out the best location for the cage when the time was right. I should be safe in the sunshine, at least from a loup-garou. If there were rabid wild dogs, coyotes, or even a real wolf, I might be in trouble.
Except I didn't believe that. Not anymore.
I loaded the tranquilizer gun before I took a walk. I also had the pistol Adam had given me, but the thing made me nervous. What if I shot someone accidentally? Heck, what if I shot them on purpose?
As jumpy as I was, that could easily happen. There'd been enough death in the Honey Island Swamp. I preferred not to cause more. The tranquilizer gun would only put someone to sleep for a few hours instead of permanently.
I was so close to proving what Simon had always known. Werewolves existed right under our very noses.
How they managed to do so and not be found was a mystery. One I wanted to unravel.
I understood now what had obsessed my husband. My guilt at not supporting him while he was alive returned, but I refused to let depression take hold. I could atone for my lack of foresight if I proved his theory. If I found a loup-garou and presented the beast to the world, Simon's reputation would be saved. No one would ever dare speak his name and laugh again.
I hadn't realized in what direction I was walking until I reached the top of a small rise and saw Adam's shack in the narrow valley below.
"Guess I don't need the map anymore," I muttered.
I was not going in there. I was not talking to him again; I was definitely not going to get close enough for him to seduce me.
I made a derisive sound. "As if."
I wasn't going to jump into bed with a man who didn't mink I was fit to share airspace with his son.
There. I felt better now.
So why didn't I leave? I stood on the ridge and stared at the shack, watching a shadow moving beyond the window. I remembered what we'd shared there.
I glanced at the yard. And there. Not to mention several other places.
My sigh was pathetic. I stiffened my spine and forced myself to turn away.
It wasn't as if I'd loved him. I'd wanted him. I'd had him. We were done.
Then why did I feel as if I'd buried my best friend?
Because you did. You just forgot about him while you were boning a stranger.
"Nice," I murmured. "With a conscience like that, who needs enemies?"
Still, my conscience was right. I'd let myself be distracted by bulging biceps, rippling abs, and an excellent dick.
Which just might be an oxymoron.
While I was having this conversation with myself I'd kept walking and managed to get all turned around. The swamp was tricky; a section could appear similar or very different depending on the time of day, the direction of the sun, the slant of the shadows.
I nearly slipped into a tributary that was far too wide to cross without an airboat, even without the alligators bobbing in the center. One splashed at the edge of the water and slunk onto the bank. I patted my pocket, relieved to find the gris-gris still there.
Pulling the bag free, I rolled it in my hand, as much for courage as magic. My heart rate returned to normal when the gator did an about-face and slid noiselessly into the water. That was so weird.
Backtracking to a familiar path, I glanced at the sky, then took off down the trail double time. The sun was fading fast.
I heard a rustle, then the thud of pursuit – something that possessed more feet than two.
I would not glance over my shoulder. How many times has the idiot heroine in a horror movie tried to catch a glimpse of what's chasing her? Then she trips over her feet, falls to her knees, and we've got snarling and screaming and blood. Basically, she's too stupid to live, so she's dead.
Not me. I heard the pitter-patter of multiple feet, and I ran. I'd thought I was within shouting distance of the mansion, not that there was anyone to shout to, but I was wrong.
Minutes later I still hadn't burst out of the tall grass and into the overgrown yard. I wished like hell I hadn't run. I'd have been better off facing the predator than making myself the prey. Although I had a feeling I'd been the prey since that fire iris had made an appearance on my bed.
A body bit me between the shoulder blades and I fell. Hard. My hands took the brunt of the fall, but still my forehead banged into the ground, and I saw stars. Whatever had knocked me down ran right over my back and kept going.
Definitely not a person – a little too quadrapedal.
I lifted my head as the tip of a tail disappeared into the foliage. With a groan I rolled onto my back and stared at the night sky. Three-quarters of the way up, a full moon shone. How could the loup-garou be out now?
It couldn't. Or at least not according to legend. However, according to legend, and Mrs. Favreau, wolves made wolves. Which explained the howls I'd heard in the night.
I thought about Charlie, Mrs. Beasly, the other missing persons, and the missing bodies.
There might not be wolves in New Orleans, but if there were werewolves, there were probably a lot of them.
I dragged myself to my feet, sore and scraped but thrilled to be alive. My dart gun had flown into the weeds when I'd fallen, and I bent stiffly to pick it up.
The only person who'd been of any use in this mystery was Marie Favreau. Well, Arianna Beasly had been helpful, too, but she was dead.
If I ever got back to the mansion, I'd call Mrs. Favreau and ask if she knew anything else worth knowing.
I continued down the path, skittering into a semi-run when the howl of a wolf from the east was answered by another from the west Then a whole chorus began, making the hair on my arms stand up almost as high as that on the back of my neck.
When the howls died away, I could have sworn I heard the grass swishing in my direction, from several locations.
I tried not to run, but it was hard. I wanted to be at the mansion, inside, right now. Why hadn't I stayed there in the first place?
After what seemed hours, I caught a glimpse of the Ruelle place between the dripping branches of the cypress trees. I hesitated at the edge of the swamp, concerned any number of beasts could be waiting for me once I left the cover of the greenery.
More howls commenced, much farther away, and I stepped into the yard. Nothing attacked me.
I popped the trunk of the car and retrieved Adam's pistol; then I went into the house and shut the door, not bothering with the lock, since all the windows were broken anyway.
There was no way I was sleeping here tonight, but first things first. I called information and moments later the phone was picked up in the French Quarter. "Hello?"
I recognized Anne's voice and considered hanging up, but that would be childish. "Is Marie there?"
Silence came over the line. I didn't like the sound of that silence.
"Who is this?"
"Diana Malone. I visited the other day."
"She's dead," Anne said flatly.
My fingers tightened on the phone. "How?"
"She was old. Heart attack."
I frowned. "Didn't Arianna have a heart attack?"
"This wasn't the same."
"No? How was it different?"
"Mother wasn't attacked. She just… died."
I didn't much care for the way people were dropping like flies not long after I talked with them.
"In the garden. She likes to sit outside and watch the stars."
And the moon, too, I'd bet.
"There weren't any bite marks?"
"She's gone." Anne made a disgusted sound. "Can't she rest in peace?"
"I hope so. Did you happen to stuff her mouth with wolfsbane and draw a pentagram on her chest? Maybe shoot her with silver, just to be sure?"
I started when Anne slammed down the phone hard enough to damage my eardrum. I couldn't say I blamed her.
Marie's death disturbed me. The old woman's heart might have given out. Then again, she could have been confronted by a werewolf and gotten a little help.
The way people were dying around here, they'd be dubbing me Typhoid Diana soon. I was tempted to call Cassandra, make sure she had no plans to stand outside and stare at the moon. Ask if she owned any silver jewelry. Tell her to put some on and save a piece for me.
Maybe I'd just tell her in person.
I began to gather my things, but a soft footfall on the porch made me lift the pistol. The door slid open, creaking loudly. I had an instant to think, Wolves can't open doors, before a figure darted inside.
A figure too small to be a man and too human to be a wolf.