Crescent Moon (Chapter 7)
The thought caused me to stiffen, then attempt to pull away. He only held on more tightly.
"Where you goin', cher? The police will want to talk with you, I'm thinkin'."
I couldn't seem to put the pieces of the puzzle that was him together quite right. I knew his voice, remembered the way he'd called me cher, recognized the bracelet surrounding his wrist and the drift of his hair against his shoulders. But his face was that of a dream man long dead.
He frowned, gave me a little shake. "You OK? Think you might faint?"
"Wh-what – "
I couldn't catch my breath to ask… Who was he? What was he?
"Happened?" I blurted.
I nodded. He shrugged. If he hadn't been so bloody, I might have gone gooey at the sight of ail those rippling chest muscles.
"Heard a scream. Found him. Tried CPR. Didn't work."
Emergency procedures could explain the blood. Made a lot more sense than this man having killed that one. Still, I was too spooked to trust him completely.
"You didn't see anything?" I pressed. "Anyone?"
He looked away, then back. His eyes were such a brilliant blue, I was reminded again of my dream. How could I have dreamed his face, his eyes, when, at the time, I'd never seen them?
That dream was starting to creep me out almost as much as the dead Charlie.
"Something big went crashing that way." He let me go to point into the depths of the swamp.
"How big?" I asked, and my voice shook.
He didn't answer, instead moving across the grass, then kneeling to get a better view of the body.
I didn't want to, but I followed.
"Animal, most like." He tilted his head, staring at the torn throat. "Men don't do that"
True, but – "What kind of animal would attack a man? Tear out his throat?"
"One you don't want to meet."
I was beginning to get used to his compact sentences and the cadence of his accent.
"Got a cell phone, cher?"
That voice did funny things to my insides.
He smiled. Or at least I thought he did. His lips turned up, but his teeth never made an appearance and the sadness in his eyes didn't lighten. Then again, what could lighten this situation? Charlie was dead.
"A phone. To call de police."
Good idea. Except my phone was on the boat
"Damn," I muttered.
He merely lifted his dark brows.
"I left it on the boat. In my bag."
I didn't want to admit I was afraid to go back there alone, but I didn't have to. He gave a sharp nod and strode toward the sound of the idling motor and the blare of the spotlight
Darkness closed in without him. The swamp was both damp and chilly. Even if it had been hotter than a Louisiana July, I'd still have shivered. There was something out here, and as Cassandra had said, it killed.
My gaze went to Charlie. I'd seen dead bodies before. But not like this.
Several quick splashes near the boat were followed by a low, warning growl that seemed to flow over the swamp grass. I swung in a circle, searching for movement, finding none. I missed Charlie's gun almost as much as I missed Simon. I was never going to find the thing out here. It had probably already sunk to the bottom of a murky, muddy hole.
I started for the boat, just as – hell, I didn't even know his name – burst into the clearing. The blood was gone; his skin still sparkled with moisture. His hair was slicked away from his face.
The splashing I'd heard must have been him washing off the blood in the tributary. But the growl?
"Did you see anything? Hear anything?" I seemed doomed to repeat myself.
"Gators." He handed me the phone. "Keep an eye out."
Did alligators growl? I couldn't recall.
"You'll need to call the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Department"
In Louisiana a parish is the equivalent of a county. Has been for over two centuries.
"Should you have washed up?" I asked. "Wasn't that evidence?"
He stiffened. "Evidence of what? You think I killed him?"
I didn't, not really. Charlie had been attacked by an animal, and while I was searching for a loup-garou – a werewolf – I didn't really believe one existed. The very idea that this man could have morphed into a wolf, killed Charlie, then morphed back into a human being and hopped into his pants before I got here was ludicrous. But something was strange about this place, the deaths, even him.
He wandered to the edge of the clearing and peered into the darkness. "What did you hear while I was at the boat?"
I hesitated. Had I heard a growl? Considering the nature of Charlie's wound, I thought so.
Black coyote, Louisiana wolf, ABC, or an undiscovered cryptid – whatever was out there, if it could kill, it could certainly growl.
"An animal," I answered. "Didn't sound like an alligator. More like something with claws and fur."
He continued to stare, and I took the opportunity to call information for the number of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Department. I had them connect me and after I stated my problem and my location, I was promised help would arrive within minutes. Considering someone had died here not more than a few days ago, I wasn't surprised a police car cruised nearby.
I shut off the phone, dropped it into my pocket, then contemplated the distractingly gorgeous back of the man whose name I had yet to discover.
"Who are you?" I whispered.
For an instant – in the swamp, in the dark – I had a vision of him turning, teeth bared, eyes wild, hair sprouting from his skin even as a tail sprouted from his spine.
I shook off the image. He wasn't the loup-garou, because there was no such thing.
Still, when he faced me, I tensed. But it was just him – whoever he was – his bright blue eyes fixed on mine as he waited for me to say something.
"Um – I do?"
"I'm Adam Ruelle."
Recluse. Soldier. Swamp native. Why hadn't I made the connection before? Perhaps because I'd asked him once and he'd… ignored me.
"You own this land," I said.
He dipped his head but said nothing.
"And the mansion." I suddenly remembered. "There's a picture on the wall upstairs."
He didn't react to the information that I'd been inside his family home. From the appearance of the place, who hadn't been?
Taking a deep breath, he let it out on a long, resigned sigh. "I favor my great-great-grandfather."
I opened my mouth, shut it again. What had I expected? That he'd admit to being a ghost? As amazing as his explanation was, it made a lot more sense than any other.
"Favor is too mild a word," I muttered.
"Got that right."
"Your family – "
"There is no family," he said sharply, eyes flashing.
"Everyone is gone but me."
"Oh," I said faintly. "I'm sorry."
I'd heard of people who did not get along with their families. Hell, I was one of them. But I didn't wish them dead. Then again, my parents were just stick-up-the-ass, judgmental elitists. Who knows what Adam Ruelle's had been?
"Did all the Ruelle men…" My voice faded. Why was I asking a perfect stranger about his family?
Because Adam fascinated me, and not merely his face, that body, his brooding, secretive manner. I had the distinct impression Frank had been right Adam knew something; he just wasn't telling.
"Did all the Ruelle men look so much alike?" I finished.
He shrugged. "Some."
That answer was nearly as helpful as his usual lack of one.
Suddenly he stood right next to me, so close his body heat pressed against my damp, chilled skin. Why didn't the man wear a shirt? Although some might consider it a sin to cover such a magnificent chest with cloth.
"You should go," he said quietly.
His being so close reminded me of the first time we'd met – how he'd grabbed me, held, touched, frightened me – and I couldn't breathe. My dream came back, and my face flushed even as my body responded to the memory of sex we'd never had.
"Th-the police," I stammered, unable to tear my gaze from his.
"After they come. Leave de swamp. New Orleans. Louisiana."
"I promised – " I broke off, unable to voice my vow, my pain, my need.
He took my hand, and then I couldn't speak. Not that the touch was anything more than casual. Still, I felt it all the way to my toes.
I was a young, healthy woman, sure I wanted sex, but what I wanted even more was skin against skin for no other reason than comfort.
"What did you promise?" Ruelle tilted his head and his hair swung loose from his shoulder.
I had a sudden image of that hair drifting down my body, the tactile sensation more erotic man any I'd ever known. I glanced away. That hadn't happened.
"I took a job. To prove the unbelievable is true."
He stared at me blankly.
"The paranormal?" I tried again.
"Ghosts?" Adam's gaze lifted to the night. "You came to de right place."
"Not ghosts. Creatures."
"Monsters?" His sharp eyes returned to my face. "Why would anyone want to prove such a thing?"
I couldn't talk about Simon with a half-naked man who'd aroused the first dollop of lust in me since I'd lost him, but Adam's questions made me think.
Simon had been an intellectual with a splash of the fey. Only those who could believe in the unbelievable had any success in cryptozoology, which was probably why I hadn't.
Whenever I'd voiced my practical, scientific opinion ; Simon had smiled as if I were a deluded child and said, "We can't see air. We can't see love. But they're there. Always."
This justification had never quite cut it for me.
His original interest in wolves had turned into an obsession with werewolves that had been the one thing that lay between us. I wanted to do the work I'd been trained to do – seek out unknown animals – Simon just wanted to chase the magic.
Suddenly Ruelle tensed, and his gaze flicked to the shadowed, swaying grasses surrounding us.
"They come," he murmured.
I spun around, my mind conjuring images of a hundred possible things that might be coming. So when two policemen broke from the darkness, for an instant I couldn't remember why they were there. How could I have forgotten dead Charlie?
A howl split the night, fleeing toward the crescent moon. The officers glanced uneasily at each other. They knew as well as I did what a coyote sounded like, and that wasn't it.
"Thought you said there were no wolves in Louisiana," I muttered.
One of the policemen had pulled out a small notebook and started toward me. At my words, he glanced up with a frown. "Ma'am, I've never spoken to you in my life."
"I was talking to – " I turned.
Ruelle was gone.