Hunter's Moon (Chapter 18)
"Nothing?" He stood and took a few short, jerky steps away from me. "It looks like someone dug a furrow in your back with a butcher knife."
I winced. It had felt like that when it happened.
He caught my expression and gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry. It's just – " He moved his hands in a helpless gesture. I understood. My back wasn't pretty. I tried not to peek at it, either.
I hadn't let anyone see me naked since it happened. I could tell myself sex didn't interest me once Jimmy had died, and that was partly true. But nothing increases celibacy like a huge scar that runs from just below your left shoulder to your right hip. My days of wearing bikinis were over. Any hope of a backless wedding gown was as dead as my fiance. But I'd live.
"Who did that to you?" Damien asked.
I sat up, keeping my shoulders slanted away from him. His hands clenched; his muscles bunched.
"It was an accident," I lied.
As if I'd admit a werewolf had marked me as his forever.
Damien frowned. "What kind of accident?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad. I do."
I got off the bed, crossed the floor, found my clothes. I didn't even realize I'd presented him with my back again until his fingers drifted over my left shoulder.
I yelped, jumped, spun. How had he followed so quickly and so quietly?
"Don't touch me," I whispered.
I couldn't bear for anyone to touch where Hector had.
"Does it hurt?"
"Of course not. It's been years."
In truth, the thing had been aching on and off since I'd seen, or imagined, the white wolf. But I wasn't going to confess that to anyone, ever.
"If it doesn't hurt, then why can't I touch you?"
"Why the hell do you think? It's ugly. I'm – "
I broke off. I'd wanted sex; I'd gotten it. Time to go.
"I have scars, too," he said quietly.
I glanced up. He pointed to his thigh where a thin white line bisected the skin. I snorted. "That's a scratch."
In truth, his body was damn near perfect. How had he gotten to be… twenty-something with only one small scar?
"Is this what you're trying so hard to forget?" he asked.
"I'll never forget."
How could I? The scar would be with me forever, along with the memories.
"Did one of the wolves hurt you?"
In the midst of putting on my shirt, I froze. "What wolves?"
"The ones you're after."
A chill trickled over my skin. How could he know who I was?
Then I remembered what sex had made me forget. The gun behind his toilet tank. The single silver bullet that I'd already used. I might be lying to him, but he was lying to me, too.
I finished dressing. Time to get back to work.
Damien lit a cigarette, stood at the window, naked, blowing smoke through his nose. He offered me a drag, but right now I didn't want to put my mouth where his had been. It might make me want to put my mouth other places.
"Who are you?" I asked.
He shrugged, the movement pulling his muscles tight, then releasing them. "No one."
"Then why were you hiding the gun?"
He frowned. "What gun?"
The complete bafflement on his face slowed me down. "Uh, the one behind the toilet tank."
He lifted a brow, then the cigarette to his mouth. Slowly he drew in, blew out. "When were you in my bathroom?"
Oops. I decided to be honest. About one thing anyway.
"I broke in."
"Emergency bathroom break?"
I didn't know how to explain why I'd gone through his things. I'd had good reason, but none I could tell him.
Juger-Suchers were supposed to be a secret monster-hunting society. Secret. As in, need-to-know only. He didn't need to know.
There was a lot of that going around.
"Let me ask you a question," Damien murmured.
"Sure," I said, eager to get off the previous topic.
He pressed his thumb and forefinger together over the glowing stub. I blinked. That had to hurt, but he didn't flinch. I recalled the sensation of his scarred, rough hands dancing over my body. Maybe it didn't hurt anymore.
The cigarette extinguished, he flicked what was left end over end. It landed between my feet.
"Killing and burning wolves. Breaking and entering." He crossed the room, stopping so close I could smell the smoke on his breath. I wanted to lick his teeth. "Searching my room and finding a gun."
He didn't touch me, didn't have to. Just the scent of him, the heat, all that lovely pale skin and rippling muscle. My body remembered and it yearned.
His voice lowered, so soft I had to strain to hear him. "Who are you, Leigh?"
Danger, danger. Time to lie a little more.
"I told you. I'm with the DNR. The wolves…"
My mind blanked. What was my cover again?
"Right," he said. "That new strain of rabies."
"Yes." I let out a silent sigh of relief.
"Where's the gun?" he asked.
"I – um – confiscated it."
"Confiscated? Can you do that?"
"Sure." I wasn't exactly sure, but he didn't need to know that, either. "Is it yours?"
"When I moved in, you can bet I never looked behind the toilet tank. Who knows who lived here before me?"
Was he telling the truth? I kind of thought that he was.
If the gun was his, he was a very good actor. If the gun was his, what possible good could a single silver bullet do?
The question now was: Whose gun had it been?
Another job for Jessie McQuade.
"I have to go," I said.
He was still standing so close the hair on my arms prickled. He hadn't touched me since the ill-fated stroke to my back. I wanted him to, and because of that, I headed for the door.
With my hand on the knob, I stopped. He followed, reaching out to place a hand on my shoulder. I tensed, but he refused to let go. When I'd yearned for his touch, I hadn't meant there.
Because I yearned and hated myself for it, hated him, I lashed out. "This was a stupid idea."
His quiet admission was like throwing ice water on my anger. I wasn't sure what to say. Sex had made me forget for a little while the realities of my life. But once the madness receded, I could see clearly again.
I was lying to him. He had no idea who I was. What I did. He had no idea how dangerous it was to know me. If he was around when the shit hit the fan – and it would; it was only a matter of time – he'd get hurt. He might get dead.
I yanked open the door. On the threshold I paused. All the cars were still there.
"Does anyone ever go home around here?" I asked.
"A lot of them walk."
I glanced back. Damien stood in the doorway, stark naked and aroused. I wanted him again. So much for self-control. What I felt for Damien reminded me far too much of what I'd once felt for Hector, and it frightened me.
I forced my gaze back to the cars. "They walk home in the dark?"
"Better than driving after you've been drinking since midafternoon."
"But – "
"Most of them live in town. It's quicker getting home as the crow flies."
What was with all the crow references?
"I don't get it," I admitted.
"A crow flies straight from one place to another. They don't care about roads. If you go home as the crow flies…" His arm shot past my face, finger extended toward the woods.
"You mean your customers walk home through the forest at night?"
I could think of several reasons. All of them furry.
"Have any of them disappeared lately?"
"One day here, tomorrow not so much."
"And you don't wonder where they went?"
"People come and go. They move. They start patronizing a different tavern. I'm not their father. Why?"
"You think they got killed by wolves?"
I shrugged. He was skirting a little close to the truth.
"Wolves aren't aggressive," he said.
"They are if they're rabid."
That much was true. All reports of wolf attacks were by rabid animals – or at least that's what we liked the common folk to believe. If the news got out that werewolves lived all over the place, it wouldn't be pretty.
"What aren't you telling me?" he asked. "Have there been rabid wolf attacks in Crow Valley? Is that why you're here?"
What was another lie among so many others? I had to make him stop asking questions any way that I could.
"But we don't want that to get out," I said hurriedly. "People will panic. We'll have nuts in the forest with guns, shooting pets, then each other."
"Not to mention the press."
I flicked him a glance. I hadn't thought of that, but he was right. Imagine, if you will, reports of a rabid wolf pack eating people upstate. What a story.
"You can see why I'm being secretive," I said. "We're handling the problem."
"By we, you mean you and the sheriff?"
We were handling the problem. Just not that problem.
"You won't tell anyone?" I pressed.
"Who am I going to tell?"
I glanced at the bar, then back at him.
He snorted. "I don't tell them anything. I listen."
He moved in my direction, and I fled before he kissed me again. One more like any of the others and I might forget everything I should remember.
I hurried up the steps and inside my apartment, then glanced at my watch. Seven a.m. I had to be back at Jessie's by noon so we could go over the Quantico report on serial killers. I could hardly wait.
I took a long, hot shower. By the time I got out I smelled like citrus and honey, not earth and wind. My muscles were relaxed, my brain mush. I went to bed, fell asleep right away, and for the first time in my life I had nightmares in the daylight.
In my dream the white wolf speaks, with Hector's voice. "Querida, what did you expect?"
He'd always called me querida, even though there'd been nothing of love in what we'd done. At least for me.
I back away, my hands outstretched, but he keeps coming, his stiff-legged gait and raised hackles terrifying, the growl beneath the words making my skin prickle.
"I had to get rid of them so you could be mine forever."
I hear myself speak in my sleep; the word echoes through my dream. Hector smiles, grins, pants. His teeth are as red as his tongue.
God, get me away from him.
I spin and run up the steps in the home of my childhood. But my childhood is over – beginning right now.
"Mine," Hector snarls at the others, stopping their mad pursuit of fleeing prey in midstep.
Hector is the alpha – there is no doubt, no question. Just as there is no question that he will catch me.
Both then and now. It is only a matter of time.
I lock myself in my room, grab the phone, listen for a dial tone, and hear nothing. My cell phone is downstairs, in my purse, useless to me now.
I run to the window, but before I can get it open and scream for someone, anyone, to help me, the door splinters inward, and he is there.
I don't want him near me with the blood of my loved ones still wet on his fur, ripe in his mouth. I look around for a weapon, something, anything, but there is nothing in this pink and white frothy sanctuary of my childhood.
"You'll never die, querida. We'll be together always. You'll like it. I promise."
I stare into his eyes and remember how it came to this.
The deaths of my family, of Jimmy, were my own fault. Because I couldn't say no when Hector touched me.
In my sleep I moan, toss, turn. I couldn't stop myself from touching Damien, either. But it isn't the same.
I'm not promised to another. I'm not having a last fling. I'm not flirting with the Devil. Damien is just a man. Hector was a beast.
I move as far into the room as I can, cower against the wall, wait for him to strike.
His eyes are so human they make me dizzy. I stared into those eyes while he did… amazing things.
Things that made me writhe, moan, scream for more. Hector had bewitched me, and now I knew why.
Gunshots erupt downstairs. The sentries howl. The scent of burning flesh and flame drifts upward and Hector snarls.
I think he'll run. Instead he lunges. I turn away, hide my head, wait for the slash of his teeth. My dress tears; cool air caresses my back.
"Wolves mate for life, querida."
Worried, disturbed, I straighten, glance over my shoulder just as he strikes – claw, not tooth. But why?
I scream as white-hot agony erupts from shoulder to hip. He leaps upward, muscles flexing, body stretching – both horrible and beautiful at the same time. He crashes through the glass and is gone.
Edward bursts into the room, hurries to the window, curses. As I lose consciousness, he bends over me and whispers, "Everything will be all right."
The phone begins to ring.
I gasped and came awake with the bright light of day shining across my face. How long had I slept? Not long enough.
What a strange dream. Hector the wolf had never spo-ken, though the words of my dream were real enough. He'd told me things in phone calls that made me weep. It had been my fault my family had died, because I'd let Hector into my life and he hadn't wanted to let me out of his.
He was possessive, obsessive. Freaking crazy. He wanted me for himself, and the only way to keep me was to make certain I had no one to turn to but him.
He hadn't counted on Edward.
I'd traced the calls after I got out – by then, I had the technology – but they'd been placed from pay phones in different parts of the country. It did me no good to report them to the police. Dead men didn't dial long-distance.
I shook my head. My cell phone was ringing now. The sound wasn't an echo of the dream.
With a groan, I hoisted myself out of bed and crossed to the kitchen table. "Hello?"
I flinched, half-expecting Hector's deep, musical voice to whisper my name.
"Where the hell are you?" Jessie snapped.
Relief made me smile. "Good morning to you, too."
"I have the report from Quantico."
"I think your friend Hector is on it."