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Blue Moon (Chapter 20)

The Gerard house was dark and silent, as was the rest of the neighborhood. Considering it was about four in the morning, this wasn't a big shock.

I wasn't sure if Cherry was sleeping or if she'd gone to the hospital with Mel and not yet returned.

Either way, 1 wasn't going to interview her until a more humane part of the morning.

By then I'd be able to read over Brad's notes. I patted my pocket, relieved to discover the notebook was still there. I'd forgotten about it in all the excitement. If I was lucky, Brad had done a bang-up job and my interview with Cherry would be blessedly short. But I wasn't counting on it.

I checked in with Zee. I should have known better.

"Christ on a crutch, Jessie. Where have you been?"

"With Mandenauer. In the woods. Where else?"

"You were gone half the night. Isn't he some hot-shit hunter? Like you."

"He's right here."

I slid a glance at Mandenauer, but he'd leaned his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. At his age it was definitely past his bedtime.

"I didn't think you'd left him in the woods," Zee snarled.

She obviously couldn't care less if she insulted our guest. Why should he be any different from the rest of the planet?

"Did you get anything?" she asked.

"One."

"What did it look like?"

I frowned at the radio. What an odd question. Besides, I had no idea. I'd only seen the wolf through the flames.

"Cinnamon-shaded female," Mandenauer said, his eyes still closed. "About one year old."

I repeated the information to Zee. Silence came over the line. That was a first. I shook the mike. "Zee?

Where'd you go?"

She coughed –  long and hard –  her lifelong smoker's hack. By all rights, she should be dead from the cigarettes, if not the mileage. In the end, the force of her cough would probably be the death of Zelda Hupmen.

"Sorry," she wheezed. "Got a call. Since it's been so damn boring for the last hour, I couldn't contain my excitement."

"You want me to take it?"

"Nope. Nothing but a dead deer on the road. Officer is already en route. Why don't you take creepy-crawly home and then go there yourself?"

"Now?"

"Now. You came on early today and stayed late yesterday. Clyde told me to even out the overtime. He can't afford it."

There was the Clyde I knew.

Ten minutes later I parked next to the car Mandenauer indicated was his. Long and black, all it needed was curtains on the windows to be mistaken for a hearse.

"Any dead bodies in the back?" I asked.

Mandenauer sniffed. "This is a Cadillac. A classic. Worth three times what I have paid for it."

"You must have paid a penny."

Mandenauer ignored my jibe, climbed in his car, and rumbled into the fading night. I climbed the steps to my apartment, the bandolier still strung across my chest, my rifle unfired. At least I wouldn't have to clean the thing tonight. I planned to dive right into bed as soon as I put all my weapons away.

I was tired –  an unusual occurrence for me. Even when I had a night off I stayed up until breakfast and slept through the day. I know I'm backward –  just ask my mother.

But I'd found that keeping to a schedule made my schedule easier to keep. Most people who worked third shift attempted to live like real folks when they weren't working. This, in my opinion, was what led to them being too tired to function for most of their life.

At any rate, I was exhausted at 4:00 a.m. and that just wasn't like me. Which was my only excuse for not noticing right away that I wasn't alone when I stepped into my apartment.

I unloaded the rifle as I walked down the hall and into my bedroom. Call me paranoid, but a loaded gun in the house is a very bad idea.

Replacing the weapon in the safe, I hung the bandolier alongside it and locked the door. I drew the totem over my head and laid it on the dresser. I'd learned my lesson about wearing the thing to bed. It had taken all day for the red marks to fade.

The overhead light hit the wolf's face and reminded me of something I'd been meaning to do. Quickly I rooted around in my nightstand until I found a magnifying glass attached to an old key chain. I checked the markings on the totem. Like Cadotte had promised, they were there. But did they mean what he said? I still couldn't buy it.

As I unbuttoned my uniform blouse, I realized I hadn't removed my gun belt and pistol. Leaving my shirt hanging open, I retraced my steps and performed my usual ritual with the Magnum. I wasn't going to lock all my guns in the safe. When I turned away from the refrigerator, I saw him.

The sliding glass doors were open and a pre-dawn breeze fluttered the drapes. Had they been like that when I'd come in? Surely I would have noticed.

A man stood in the opening. With no light from outside, no light from within, I could barely discern his outline from the ebony sky. But I could hear him breathing. I reached for my gun and he rushed me.

I'd learned to fight as a kid, which meant I'd learned to fight dirty. While rolling around in the dirt with little boys, a little girl quickly learns she'd better get mean or she'd get hurt.

I'd refined my street skills at the academy, where we'd learned hand-to-hand combat –  the kind of fighting that usually went down in bars.

Except when I had to fight drunks, they were slower and stupider than me. My intruder was none of the above.

On my initial strike to the face, he grabbed my wrist, twisted me around. I kicked backward, going for his knee. He did a fancy sidestep, twirled me like a dancer, and kissed me on the mouth.

The first taste and I knew. Cadotte. Who else?

My racing pulse slowed as he deepened the kiss. Had he been here all along, waiting for me to return?

Or had he climbed up the building again and slid inside?

I yanked my lips away. "What in hell are you doing here?"

He didn't answer. I couldn't see his face. Unnerved, I struggled to get free. He only pulled me tighter against him, where I discovered he was very glad I was home.

Though my body shouted for me to take him to the ground and climb on top, my heart still pounded with an excess of adrenaline, and my emotions were too tangled for me to be anything but angry.

"Let me go."

"No." He nuzzled my neck, scraped his teeth along a throbbing vein, licked my collarbone –

I stiffened, remembering the dream. "Right now, Ca-dotte!"

His laugh rubbed his chest against mine. My shirt was still open, my bra a mere wisp of lace. I bit my lip to keep from moaning out loud at the friction. How could I be angry, aroused, and frightened all at the same time?

"Don't make me hurt you."

"Why don't you go ahead and try?" he whispered.

Now how could I resist an offer like that?

Before he could think, I brought my knee up hard and fast. He twisted quicker than a cat, and all I hit was his thigh.

"Ah, ah, ah. If you did that, there'd be no fun later."

I shoved him away and he let me. For a tall, lanky geek with glasses, he had more muscle mass than I would have figured. But since I'd seen him naked, I should have known better.

I tried a flat-handed shot to his chest. He blocked that and did some fancy Oriental jump-kick that I was barely able to deflect.

"What the hell was that? Kung fu?"

"Tai chi. It's very good for you."

"I bet."

He became less and less the geeky egghead with every passing moment. So the professor knew martial arts? Time to get serious.

I couldn't see much beyond a shadow in the starless darkness that filled my apartment. But I caught no glint of glass on his face, so punched him in the nose.

Or at least I tried to. He grabbed my fist inches from his nostrils. How in hell did he do that?

"Say uncle," he murmured.

"Bite me."

I'd never been very good at giving in.

"Jessie, Jessie. You aren't going to win."

Why it annoyed me so much that he was besting me in a physical fight, I have no idea. He was a guy.

They were stronger. It was a medical fact, which had always pissed me off.

Maybe part of the reason I didn't want to give up and say uncle was because his macho-man muscling me around was the most arousing foreplay I'd ever experienced. So I hooked my ankle around his and took him down to the floor.

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