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Crescent Moon (Chapter 13)

"What kind of curse?" I managed.

"Oh, not a real curse." Mrs. Beasly laughed, veiny white hand pressed to her concave breast. "Just extremely bad luck. Or maybe insanity."

Insanity? Well, this kept getting better and better.

"You're talking about Adam?" She cut me a quick, sharp glance and I shrugged. "I read some before I came here. He was in the army. Flipped out."

"So they say." Her lips went prim. "But I wasn't referring to him."

I resisted the urge to shake her until all the secrets spilled out. Mrs. Beasly was the type of woman who wouldn't talk if you pissed her off – kind of like me. I'd bet my next hot shower that the info she would impart couldn't be found in any book. Instead, I held my breath and I waited.

After another glance around the echoing, cavernous library, she lowered her voice until I practically had to crawl over the desk to hear her.

"Suicide." The word seemed to slither across my neck like Lazarus.

"Who?"

"Both Adam's father and his grandfather."

I frowned. No wonder Adam had escaped to the army.

"The police were certain it was suicide?"

"They both…" She paused, uncomfortable. "Well, there's really no other way to say this except straight out They blew their heads off."

"Both of them.?"

She nodded. "There was an investigation. But the angle of the gun pretty much told the tale. The sons were always suspect, of course."

"Sons?"

"Adam's father was a suspect for his father's death, and Adam for his."

"Why?"

"The police thought there was money."

"But there wasn't?"

"Not only are the Ruelles cursed with insanity and sons, but everything they touch…" She spread her hands.

"Turns to shit," I muttered.

Her mouth pruned again. "If you must be vulgar."

I must.

'They're land-poor," she said. "The mansion, the swamp. Keeping that in the family takes a lot of money."

"Why is there a mansion near the swamp anyway?" I asked. That had always bugged me.

"The first Ruelle came to Louisiana from France by way of Canada."

Acadian. I thought so.

"Those people, the Cajuns, they kept to themselves, but the Ruelles even more so. They bought that land for a song, and they refused through centuries of bad luck to let it pass out of the family."

I'd never understood the obsession with land, but wars had been fought, countless lives had been lost, over just that.

"Was there any indication of why the senior Ruelles killed themselves?" I continued. "A note?"

"Nothing."

"I'd like to read the articles on those deaths, but…"

I glanced at my watch. First I needed to pick up my film.

"I'll find them for you," Mrs. Beasly said. I can make copies. A dollar a sheet."

"That would be great." I handed her ten dollars.

'I'll leave them at the desk. If I'm not here, someone will be. What's your name?"

"Diana Malone."

She gave me her English teacher stare. "I've never heard of the Ruelles having Irish relatives."

"Wrong side of the blanket," I said. "Hush-hush."

For an instant I thought she might refuse to help me, and why? She was a librarian, paid to impart information. What difference did it make who I was?

I guess not much, because she pocketed the money and said good-bye.

I hurried outside, surprised at what I'd learned. However, the real surprise awaited me at the photo shop.

I paid for the prints, anxiously drew them from the envelope, men nabbed the clerk and shoved one under his nose. "What happened?"

Since he was about ten years younger, four inches shorter, and twenty pounds lighter than me, he got that deer in the headlights look as his prominent Adam's apple began to bob. "I… uh… what?"

"There's nothing here."

"But – " He peered at the picture. "There is."

"I don't mean the swamp, the grass, the trees. There was something there."

"What?"

"I don't know!" I practically shouted. "That's why I took the picture."

The kid appeared more confused than ever. "You took a photo of something, and it isn't on the print?"

"Yes."

"That's impossible, ma'am. If there was something there, it'd be," he pointed to the lovely picture of nighttime in the swamp, "there. Unless it was a vampire."

He snorted at his own wit "No, wait, that's a mirror. Vampires don't have a reflection. It's werewolves that don't show up on a photograph."

I frowned, blaming the shiver that passed over me on too much air-conditioning for a steamy autumn day.

"What did you say?"

My voice must have alerted the kid to the fact that I was not amused, because he stopped snickering and retreated behind the counter. Like that would keep me from following him if I wanted to.

"Werewolves don't show up on film," he repeated.

"And you know this why?"

"I've lived in New Orleans all my life," he answered, as if that explained everything.

"There's no such thing as vampires or werewolves."

"No?" he murmured, the word taking on a faint French twist. ''Maybe you should spend some time alone in the

Quarter after midnight. Or walk through the swamp under a full moon. You know why there are no cemetery tours after dusk?"

"People get robbed."

"Sure they do. And the dead also rise."

I stared at the young man who'd seemed so harmless, almost shy. Now he just seemed nuts.

"Ooookay." I backed toward the door.

"The only way to tell if a wolf is a werewolf is to shoot it with silver."

"Makes sense," I said. "Thanks for the tip." Was this guy for real?

I fumbled with the door, got it open, and fled into the heat

"Not going back there," I muttered. Even if they hadn't screwed up my pictures.

It was only a coincidence that my photos showed nothing but grass, and werewolves didn't show up in a photo. Because there was no such thing, no such thing, no such thing.

And maybe if I clicked my heels together three times I'd be in Kansas and not in the middle of this mess. I was tempted to try, but I was fresh out of ruby slippers.

Instead I bought new film, telling myself the airport X-ray machines had ruined mine, then headed for the swamp. Not until I'd parked in front of the mansion did I remember the articles I was supposed to pick up at the library.

A rumble of thunder in the distance turned my gaze to the west. Huge, dark clouds billowed on the horizon. Looked like we were in for a doozy of a storm. Since I was used to wussy Midwestern thunderstorms, rather than Southern hurricane-force winds, tomorrow seemed as good a time as any to return to town.

Besides, if I dug out some soap, I could take a shower right in the front yard. Considering the heat index of the last couple days, the idea had too much merit to pass up.

I locked my camera and photos in the trunk with the gun, then hurried inside and grabbed what I needed, along with my gris-gris.

"When in Rome," I murmured as I shoved it into the pocket of my pants. I left the zombie-revealing powder behind, afraid the stuff would disintegrate, or worse, if wet.

The sky opened up when I stepped onto the porch. Though the rain was warm, steam rose when the drops hit the ground.

I dragged off my jeans, socks, shoes, and through an acrobatic maneuver managed to slide my bra from beneath my tank top. Then I walked into the storm.

I was drenched in an instant, my top and underwear plastered against me like a size 4 Lycra bodysuit. Quickly I made use of the soap and the shampoo. Needles of rain washed everything away; rivulets of water ran down my face so fast, I could barely see. When I was done, I continued to stand under the clouds, lifting my hands to the sky as I let nature cleanse me.

Deesse de la lune.

My eyes snapped open. Slowly I turned a circle in the yard. Why did I keep hearing those words murmured in French as if they were the whisper on the wind? Was I losing my mind?

I frowned at the Ruelle Mansion. Did everyone who lived in that place eventually eat lead?

Refusing to be spooked, I stalked to the porch, rubbed the towel over my body, and stepped into my jeans. I lifted my head, glanced toward the swamp, and saw someone watching me.

The rain beat down; the mist drifted up. I had a hard time focusing, but there was definitely a person, a man, leaning against a cypress tree about a hundred yards from the house. Spanish moss hung from the branches, nearly touching the ground, obscuring his face. But the outline of the body was familiar, as were the hair, the jeans, the bare chest.

"Adam?"

He didn't answer.

"I'm sick of this," I muttered.

I was going to confront him, ask all my questions, and demand answers. Tossing the towel on the porch, I headed into the storm.

The figure didn't move as I approached. He seemed wilder somehow – his eyes brighter, his hair more tangled, his body tense as a stalking beast Without the shirt, skin slick with rain, I could see every ridge, every curve. He wasn't wearing his bracelet. I couldn't remember ever seeing him without it

Why was he here? Did he want the same thing that I did? Mindless sex until I couldn't remember the questions anymore?

I reached the edge of the yard, the cusp of the swamp, and still he waited. Lightning flashed; water ran into my eyes. Impatiently I swiped at my face, and when I looked again, he was gone. Had I seen him or only wished that I had?

And why would I wish? The police wanted to talk to Adam Ruelle about strangling the life out of someone. I shouldn't go near the man, let alone lust after him.

Though he disturbed me hi ways I didn't want to examine, had scared me more times than I wanted to count, I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that Adam had killed someone with his bare hands.

I'd felt those hands on me, and while they'd been desperate, urgent, and rough, they hadn't been violent However, that didn't mean they couldn't be.

Beneath the tree I found the slight indentation of a bare foot in the dirt Then another and another, leading deeper into the swamp.

I wasn't crazy. He had been here.

I should turn back; I might get lost and wander for days. But I followed the tracks anyway.

Why I was so obsessed I had no idea. The man was a mystery, and I liked my life neat. Perhaps that explained my difficulty believing in the paranormal. The paranormal didn't make sense, hence the name. I hated things that did not make sense. I was obliged to make sense of them.

After a half an hour of traveling at a pretty fast clip, the trail petered out. I paused, ears straining, eyes searching. All I saw was the swamp in the rain; all I heard was that rain coming down. Then I smelled the faint, acrid scent of a cigarette.

As I blinked the water out of my eyes, my gaze was caught by what appeared to be a roof on the other side of a slight rise. I had no choice but to head in that direction, even when my bare feet sank to the ankles in muck.

I pulled them out, wincing at the disgusting sucking sound they made popping free of the greenish-brown goo. Luckily, once I hit solid ground, the rain washed away the slime.

I topped the hill and stared at the shack, which seemed to have sprouted from a bayou. The building resembled something straight out of The Beverly Hillbillies III: Elly May Does Louisiana.

"Good title for a porn flick," I murmured, peering at the figure on the porch, one that could put pornographic thoughts into the mind of any woman.

A shirtless Adam Ruelle leaned against the railing, smoking as he watched the storm rage.

I glanced at the swamp, suddenly tempted to go back, A flicker of movement somewhere in the depths had me hurrying into the slight valley, stopping at the edge of the overgrown front yard.

The instant I appeared, Adam's attention fell from the sky to me. He took one last draw on his cigarette, then flicked the thing into the grass, where it hissed as the ember met rain.

He walked slowly down the steps and across the ground, stopping so close, the heat of his body battled the chill of mine. I half-expected steam to rise from my soaked clothes.

His gaze wandered over me; desire rolled across his face like thunder rolls across the sky. His eyes locked on my breasts, and I glanced down, my face heating at the sight

I'd removed my bra, spent nearly an hour in the rain. Being topless would be less suggestive than wearing the soaked tank, which outlined the weight and fullness, seeming to accent the thrust of my nipples, magnifying the darkness of the areola.

He reached out, the tanned skin of his hand stark against the white shirt as he cupped one breast gently, almost reverently. Testing the weight, he skimmed a single thumb over the tip.

I opened my mouth to ask… something, and he yanked me against him. My breath caught, the sound both fear and excitement. I tilted my head, an offering, and his lips captured mine.

Our tongues met; his tasted of smoke and I liked it, which only showed how far gone I was. I'd never cared for cigarettes, but when Adam smoked them, I could only think of how I'd feel if he wrapped his beautiful lips around my nipple the way he wrapped them around a cigarette and suckled.

His arousal rubbed against me. My hands flitted over his skin, kneading the muscles, learning the curves and the dips. I couldn't think, could only feel both his desperation and my own. I should have protested, pulled away, but I didn't.

From the moment I'd first seen him we'd been headed for this. I could no more have stopped what was about to happen than I could have stopped the moon from growing larger with each passing night.

He lifted his head, glanced into the trees, frowned. I tangled my fingers in his hair; then I frowned, too.

He'd been out in the rain as long as I had, yet his hair was almost dry.

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