Crescent Moon (Chapter 38)
"I won't kill you." Adam jerked his head toward the tall grass. "But they will. Get lost."
Henri glared at me, a promise in his eyes, but he went, gliding into the swamp and disappearing.
"I'll take care of you. I swear."
I wanted Adam's words to mean something, but they were only words he'd say to anyone who'd helped him protect his son. He owed me, and while I should tell him to stuff his help, I'd looked into Henri's eyes and I didn't ever want to run into him again alone.
"Diana?" Adam took one step toward me, hand outstretched.
"Don't move, asshole."
Adam froze. So did I.
Big, muscle-bound men with bandoliers of bullets strung across their impressive chests spilled into the clearing. Each of them had a rifle in his hands, a pistol on his hip, and a knife strapped to his thigh.
Another man walked into the clearing carrying Frank Tallient. Frank's legs hung uselessly over his helper's arm, revealing why he'd sent me to find the loup-garou instead of coming himself.
Frank was placed atop a rotted stump at the edge of the clearing. He pointed a handgun at Adam's head.
"How did you get here so fast?" I blurted.
"I knew you'd find him this time, Diana." Frank never took his eyes or his gun off of Adam. "I came to New Orleans yesterday so I'd be close by when your call came."
"He-he got away," I blurted.
Frank made a tsking sound. "He's right here. Henri, it's been a long time."
"No – "I began.
Adam shot me a silencing glare, and I zipped my lip. Then he returned his attention to Frank. "Do we know each other?"
Fury washed over Frank's face. "I suppose it's nothing for you to wipe out an entire family and leave a man crippled."
"Where was this?" Adam asked.
"You really don't remember?"
"Iron Mountain." At Adam's blank expression Frank continued, "Upper Michigan."
I inched closer to Adam with the vague idea that maybe Frank wouldn't shoot him if there was a chance of hitting me. With my shoulder pressed to Adam's, I felt him jerk at the words.
Michigan? When had Henri gone there? And if he'd traveled that far, where else had he been? How many others had he killed? How many werewolves had he made?
"When was this?" Adam's voice was a bit hoarse.
Frank didn't seem to notice. "Seven years, one month, three days, and five hours ago, you son of a bitch."
Seven years meant Henri had left Louisiana before Adam had taken over his protection. That was irrelevant to Frank. His family was dead and he meant to have his vengeance.
I stepped forward and Adam yanked me back. "No."
One glance at his face and I understood. Adam was going to let Frank riddle him with silver bullets on the off chance the man didn't know a werewolf would explode. Then Frank would leave, believing his vengeance complete.
"Protect Luc," Adam whispered. "Find a way."
My eyes widened. He was putting his son in my care? I didn't like this plan. However, I didn't have a better one, except – "He isn't Henri."
I ignored Adam's plea. Henri had lived this long; he'd no doubt live a lot longer. He was probably halfway to Acapulco by now. Frank hadn't been able to find him without me, and I wasn't going to oblige him by locating Henri a second time.
"The one who killed your family and hurt you is out there." I pointed to the swamp. "This is Adam. His great – a bunch of times – grandson."
"Bullshit," Frank said conversationally. "I saw Henri maliciously murder everyone I loved. Then he left me alive to remember and mourn."
"He was a wolf; how do you know it was Henri?"
Frank's eyes glazed over with the memory. "I'd taken my family to our cabin. We were having dinner in town and Henri was at the bar. He and I struck up a conversation. He was an interesting, intelligent man. I even considered fixing him up with my daughter." He shuddered. "You should have seen what he did to her."
No, I shouldn't.
"He leaped right through our picture window. I tried to stop him, and he knocked me down the steps. Something snapped in my back, and I couldn't move my legs. I had to watch him kill them all. I'll never forget his eyes. I see them every night in my sleep."
"The curse makes all the Ruelle men look alike," I blurted.
I wasn't certain that was true, but the explanation made sense, especially when combined with the lack of females born into the family since the voodoo queen had done her thing.
"This is Adam," I insisted, "not Henri."
"I don't believe you." Frank sighted down the barrel of his gun.
I threw myself in front of Adam as the weapon fired. I expected pain; instead all I felt was Adam's arms close around me.
"He missed," I breathed in wonder.
Adam glanced at his bicep, where blood dripped from a two-inch gash. "Not exactly."
"Get out of the way, Diana," Frank ordered. "I don't want to, but I will kill you."
"I'm not moving," I said.
Adam's hands tightened on my shoulders. I smiled, thinking the movement was affection, then gasped when he tossed me aside to land with a thud out of the line of fire.
"Adam!" I shouted, scrambling up, tensing in expectation of a gunshot, but there wasn't one.
Detective Sullivan stood behind Frank, pressing his sidearm to the base of Frank's skull. "Drop it," he said. "And your friends, too."
Frank complied, as did his goons.
"You don't understand – " Frank began.
"I understand plenty," Sullivan snapped, the hula dancer on his tie undulating with the force of his anger. "You're under arrest You tried to kill that man, and you threatened that woman."
"But he's a werewolf."
Sullivan blinked, then glanced at me. I shrugged and made the crazy sign by rolling my index finger next to my ear.
"He asked me to find a wolf in the swamp." I looked at Adam, who was letting the blood drip down his arm and into the ground, making no attempt to stanch the flow. "I didn't realize he was nuts and meant werewolf."
"This is the guy you work for?" Sullivan asked.
"Not anymore," Frank muttered.
Sullivan put away his weapon as the clearing filled with cops who began to cuff the minions and collect the evidence.
"Do you know who I am?" Frank asked. "I'll have your job for this."
Sullivan made a motion and two cops carried a struggling, cursing Frank Tallient away.
I hurried across the short space separating me from Adam, tearing a strip off my shirt as I went. He must have been feeling pretty woozy, because he let me bind his arm without arguing.
"Why did you come here?" I asked Sullivan.
"Some guy wanted to know where Charlie died. Since that's an open case, I got suspicious. I came to your place and saw them head into the swamp. That much guns and ammo, couldn't be good. So I called for backup and here we are."
"I appreciate de help." Adam offered his nonbloody hand.
"I've been wanting to talk to you for a while." Sullivan took it and they shook.
"You know anything about the man strangled on your property?"
"Ever seen any animals behaving oddly? Maybe rabid?"
Sullivan's gaze slid to mine. "A regular fountain, isn't he?"
"You have no idea."
"The rabies expert has arrived. He was supposed to meet me at the mansion – " Sullivan glanced at his watch. "Damn. Thirty minutes ago. I need to get over there."
He disappeared pretty quickly for such a big guy. Within moments, everyone else had followed, and Adam and I were alone.
"There's something I've been meaning to do," Adam murmured.
His lips quirked before he reached out and yanked the gold chain from around my waist, then tossed it into the weeds.
He lifted his hand and another spilled out – interlinking silver fleurs-de-lis. "I'd put it on for you, but – " He shrugged, then winced when the movement tugged his wounded bicep.
I took the gift and looped it around my belly, unreasonably touched. I had to admit, silver flattered my skin much better than gold. "Thanks."
"Anytime." Adam shifted his gaze from my stomach to the trail. "Sulllivan's expert will be Henri bait."
"You don't think Henri is long gone?"
Adam snorted. "Even if he left, he'll be back. This place is as much a part of him as his fur."
"I'll have to tell the expert there's no wolf, no rabies. Considering my credentials, maybe he'll believe me and go away."
Adam nodded but continued to stare into the swamp with a frown. I followed his gaze to a nearby cypress tree where a tall, gaunt, ancient man watched us from the shadows.
"Hello," I called. "Are you lost?"
He approached slowly, his gait more measured than pained. Despite the heat, he was dressed in black, which only made him appear more skeletal.
I figured his age at eighty-plus. His hair might once have been blond but had faded to a dusky white. His blue eyes had faded, too, but they still shone with a fervor that made me want to snap a salute.
The accent was German – less pronounced than if he still lived in the motherland but thick enough to reveal he'd been born there.
"I am Edward Mandenauer, I was called by Detective Sullivan about a rabies problem." His gaze Sicked to Adam. "Would he be you?"
Adam merely shook his head.
"This is Adam Ruelle." I spared Adam a "don't be rude" glare. "He owns this land. Detective Sullivan returned to the mansion to meet you."
"Ah, I must have missed him. His men directed me here." Mandenauer strode to the cage, inspected the lock, the moss, the bars, then lifted a yellowed brow in my direction. "You have caught nothing?"
I met his gaze squarely. "No."
He presented us with his back, then looked into the nearest cypress, where my tree stand remained.
"Hmmm," was all he said – until he turned with a pistol in his hand. "Where are the werewolves?"