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Crescent Moon (Chapter 10)

"Cassandra, this is ridiculous."

"Try the powder; then tell me it doesn't work."

"Fine." I stuffed the bag into another pocket. "Thanks."

"That's what I'm here for."

"I'll – uh – be staying at the Ruelle place from now on."

She lifted her brows. "How did you manage that?"

"My boss." I shrugged. "You know where I can get some camping equipment?"

There were a few things I didn't have – like mosquito netting. It had been a while since I'd gone anywhere this tropical.

Cassandra gave me an address. I wrote out my cell phone number. "In case you need me."

Although what she'd need me for, I had no idea. Still she smiled as if I'd just given her a gift beyond rubies and walked me to the door.

"You aren't going to be there alone?" she asked.

"Probably not," I muttered, and headed for the hotel.

I checked out, got directions to the address Cassandra had given me, charged what I needed, and drove to the mansion. On the porch sat my camping equipment I don't know how Frank had gotten the stuff here that fast, and I didn't care. He was the greatest.

As soon as I'd unloaded, a sudden compulsion to do something proactive made me head into the swamp. If I was going to take a look around, I wanted to do it in the daytime.

I found the location of last night's "incident" without too much trouble. Yellow crime scene tape stands out pretty well amid the swaying grass and cypress trees. I resisted the urge to tear it down. Behavior like that could earn me a few days in a cell.

I spent far too long in the swamp. The place was both wild and tranquil, steamy with heat, yet filled with cool water. I saw birds I'd never seen before, plants, trees, flowers, fish. I was captivated, entranced, mesmerized, which was the only reason I didn't notice the sun falling down.

I discovered a field of fire irises and used the pocketknife I'd just purchased to saw through a few stalks. As

I gathered them into my arms, something caught my eye.

Thinking I'd see the tip of a tail once again disappearing into the swamp, I gaped at the shape of a man in the shad-ows of a cypress tree.

I knew that silhouette – the broad shoulders, the slim waist, the tousled hair.

"Adam?"

I blinked and he was gone.

Which was impossible. Nobody could move that fast

I tightened my fingers on the knife, then hurried to the tree and walked around the huge trunk. There was nothing, no one, yet still I felt… something, and it wasn't friendly.

I stared upward, cringing at the idea of a man dropping from the tree and landing on me. Ail I saw was branches and moss; nevertheless, I cursed. Dusk hovered on the horizon.

With one last wary glance at the swamp, I folded the knife and put it in my pocket, then clasped the irises close to my chest and headed for home at a near run. Along with the thunder of my own frantic feet – now encased in unfashionable but practical hiking boots – I could have sworn I heard footsteps behind me.

I was officially paranoid.

As I burst out of the foliage and into the yard, the house seemed to stare back at me with a smirk. Not only was I paranoid but a little crazy also.

I ran inside and slammed the door, locking it behind me. No wonder the house seemed to be laughing. What good would a locked door do me when all the windows were broken? Why on earth was I out here without a gun?

From what I'd gathered on the Internet, it wasn't hard to buy one. No waiting period, no registration, no background check. God, I loved the South. First chance I had, ; I was using some of Frank's money on a pistol.

A thud from the second floor had my heart racing as fast as my feet had. I should have stayed in the city, but then I'd never find out anything. With a sense of deja vu, I turned toward the steps.

Adam Ruelle stood at the bottom, holding the lantern I'd bought, wearing the usual frayed khakis. This time a white tank top covered his chest, the lack of sleeves only emphasizing the ropy muscles of his arms.

Confused, I glanced out the window, toward the swamp, where I could have sworn I'd seen him not more than fifteen minutes ago. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you de same thing." He set the lantern next to my backpack, sleeping bag, and portable stove. "This is my house."

"Not while I'm renting the place."

He frowned. "You rented it?"

"My employer did. I need to be close to the area where the – "I broke off.

He didn't seem to notice, staring at the flowers I clutched to my chest. "You shouldn't have brought those."

I lowered my arms, stared at the crushed blooms. "Why?"

"They attract – " He yanked them out of my hands. "Animals."

Before I could say anything, do anything, he opened the front door, walked to the dock, and tossed the fire irises as far away as he could before striding back inside.

"You're kidding," I murmured.

"I don't kid."

I wasn't surprised. The man hadn't cracked a smile since I'd met him.

"Someone left one on my bed at the hotel."

Had that someone been him? If so, why leave the flower then and take them away from me now? I was so confused.

Adam appeared deep in thought, more worried about the fire iris on my bed than I had been. Which couldn't be good.

"I was told those flowers were bad luck," I said. "I figured someone didn't much care for me."

His eyes flicked to mine, the bright blue a beacon in the hazy light from the lantern. "Who you think it was?"

"No idea I'd just gotten into town at the time. How could I have pissed off anyone that fast?"

"It's a gift," he muttered.

"Thanks."

I plucked a stray red petal off my shirt and rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger. A spicy aroma arose, like cinnamon atop a bonfire. I could understand why an animal might be attracted to them. I was.

"At least I'm not nuts," I murmured.

"No?"

I narrowed my gaze. "I could have sworn someone was following me just now. But maybe it was… something."

He scowled. "What did you see?"

"Well, I thought I saw you, but that must have been a trick of the light You were here. Right?"

"Right," he agreed, though he didn't sound convinced. Which was as bizarre as my seeing him in the first place. Didn't he know where he'd been?

"The police think you're dead."

"They aren't the only ones."

"You like being a ghost?"

A long moment passed, the silence broken only by a faint splash from the swamp. He went to the window and ' his whisper came out of the darkness. "I don't mind."

He seemed so sad, so alone. I'd been there, hell, I still was, and while sometimes I liked it, more and more lately I didn't.

I couldn't help myself. I inched in close and touched his arm. "You seem real enough to me."

He stiffened and I yanked my hand away, but he caught it in a swift, catlike movement as he turned. I didn't have time to think, let alone escape, even if I'd wanted to. He wrapped his long, strong arm around my back and kissed me.

I was so shocked, I let him. Or maybe I let him because the man kissed as if he did little else but.

Tongue, lips, teeth, he devoured. Nothing gentle in this kiss, all wet heat and lust. He twined his fingers in my hair; I dug mine into his shoulders and held on.

He tasted of mint, as if he'd just brushed his teeth. I ran my tongue along the straight, white expanse and he moaned, then nipped my lip.

A shudder ran through me. His kiss was as rough as his hands, and I relished it I didn't know why. Simon had been gentle in all things, especially lovemaking.

Maybe that was why.

He wasn't Simon, and this wasn't love. I didn't want it to be.

I'd had my shot. One man, one woman, forever. I believed that. A woman like me didn't get two soul mates. Did anyone?

Since Simon was dead, I was doomed to be alone. But that didn't mean I couldn't have this.

I ran my palms over his arms, let my thumbs trace his collarbone, tangled my fingers in his hair. His skin was so soft over muscles so hard. I wanted to trace every inch of him.

I was overcome with a sudden urge to drop to my knees and score the ripples of his abdomen with my teeth. I'd never seen a man put together so well, not that I'd seen all that many.

His erection brushed my stomach; my gasp was captured by his mouth as his hand dipped inside my shirt, slid under my bra, his palm cupping my breast, testing the weight, thumb teasing one nipple even as his lower body skimmed softly against mine.

He kept kissing me; I couldn't think. I wanted nothing more than to feel his heat, his strength, his life. How could I ever have thought him a ghost?

Suddenly he tore away; I nearly fell. He stared at me wide-eyed, his mouth wet and swollen, as he shoved a hand through his tangled hair.

I'd tangled it. I wanted to do so again.

"I shouldn't have…" He made a vague gesture in my direction.

I swallowed. I could still taste him. "Why did you?"

He snorted. "Have you looked in de mirror lately?"

"I don't –  I mean, I'm not – "

"You are."

"What?"

"Sexy."

I laughed. "You must be more deprived than I am."

The corner of his mouth lifted. "I'm sure that's true."

No one had ever called me sexy. Simon had loved me, but he'd been more interested in my mind than my body. We'd been colleagues, friends, then lovers. The sex had been good. This had been –

Catastrophic?

Mind-bending?

Life altering? Or just –

Wrong.

I didn't know this man. Not really. Everything I'd heard about him should make me wary.

Most, if not all, of the bodies had been found on his property; why wasn't he a suspect? Then again, the police were blaming animals. Unless Adam Ruelle planned to shape-shift beneath the crescent moon, he was innocent. At least of the Honey Island Swamp killings.

"Diana?"

I started as Adam brushed my hair from my face. His fingertips grazed my cheek, and I resisted the urge to rub my skin against his and purr. What was the matter with me?

"You should take your things and go back to wherever it is you came from."

That was the second time he'd told me as much.

I stared into his bright blue eyes. "It didn't feel like you wanted me to go."

"What I want and what's best for de both of us are two different things."

"I don't understand."

I waited for him to explain. When he didn't, I let out an exasperated sigh and turned away. He grabbed my hand and yanked me back, catching me when I stumbled, aligning our bodies just right all over again.

His jaw tightened. "What I want is to lie you down on , de ground, right here, or maybe shove you against de wall, right there, and take you until you can't argue with me anymore"

As if he couldn't help himself, he leaned forward, brushed his lips to the swell of my breast exposed by our acrobatics.

"I want to mark you with my teeth." He scraped the sensitive skin just under my collarbone. "Bury myself in you."

He pulled me more tightly against him. I should have been insulted; instead I was interested.

"Over and over and over again. Me, you. You, me." He punctuated each hoarse whisper with a thrust of his hips.

"I'll be inside you day and night until you don't know where you begin and I end."

Leaning over, he nuzzled my cheek, put his mouth to the curve of my neck, and suckled my skin hard enough to leave the mark he'd spoken of. Then he lifted his head and his whisper brushed the moist imprint, making me shiver. "Are you afraid enough to run now?"

Afraid?

No.

Amused out of my mind?

You betcha.

He stilled against me – hard, hot, his pulse beating out of time with mine. The intimacy of our position, his words, my feelings for a stranger, should have made me bolt. Instead I lifted my gaze and let him see that I wanted the same thing, too.

He cursed and swung away to stare out the window once more.

I wasn't sure what to say. Had the entire interlude been an attempt to make me flee? If so, he was the best actor on the planet I could swear I'd tasted desire, and how could he fake a hard-on?

Dumb question. He was a guy. They could get a hard on in a stiff breeze. Or so I'd heard. A man like Adam Ruelle was not only out of my league but also out of my realm of experience, seeing as I'd only known one man intimately in my life.

"You intend to stay?" Adam murmured.

"Damn straight" He couldn't get rid of me that easily.

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and faced me. "You'll need another guide."

"I don't need anything."

Except you, my treacherous body whispered. I ignored it; I'd gotten very good at that over the past few years.

Til do it."

For an instant I thought he meant do it, and why wouldn't I? We had, after all, practically done it standing up. Then I understood he was talking about guiding me into the swamp.

"No."

"You want to see my land, you go with me. Always. Never alone. You understand, cher?"

I understood. There were things out there I didn't want to meet alone. But did I want to meet them with Adam Ruelle? I wasn't sure. Still, what choice did I have? As he'd pointed out, this was his land. My boss might have rented the house, but I didn't recall anything about the swamp.

"Don't call me cher," I said between my teeth.

His mouth lifted into a ghost of a smile. "I guess that means yes."

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