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Dark Moon (Chapter Fifteen)

I glanced at the window to discover dawn had just broken.

"Duh," I muttered.

Will continued to study my face. "There's someone you should meet. Her name's Cora Kopway. She's very old. Very wise. A member of the Midewiwin."

At my blank expression, he elaborated. "Grand Medicine Society. Once, it was a secret religious fellowship devoted to healing through knowledge of the other world. Cora has spent her life studying ancient texts and conversing with the spirits in her visions."

For most people, meeting with a woman who received information from the dead would seem strange.

But once you turned furry every full moon, strange takes on a whole new meaning.

"If anyone can tell us about the totem," Will continued, "Cora can."

The sound of a car on the street below drew Will to the door. "Jessie's back."

I glanced at my watch with a frown. She hadn't been gone all that long.

"Edward?" I asked.

"Not with her. Neither is Nic."

Even though I hadn't expected him to be, disappointment sparked.

"Let's tell her what you told me."

I followed Will down the stairs and across the alley. As soon as we entered the cabin, Jessie announced,

"Mission accomplished."

I hadn't seen Nic for seven years, a few days in his company shouldn't make me bereft upon losing him.

Shouldn't, but did.

"Where's Mandenauer?" I asked.

Jessie looked confused. "I thought he was with you."

"He said he was going to help you."

"I never saw him."

An uneasy sensation tickled the base of my skull. "That's not good."

"Doesn't mean jack. Except I'm in deep shit because I didn't smell a tail."

"Where would he go?"

"Who knows with him? Either he'll show up, or he'll call. He always does."

My unease lessened, though it wouldn't go away completely until Edward walked through the door holding my research. There was always someone, or something, after him. That he'd survived this long was a miracle, or supreme luck. Sooner or later his luck would run out.

"Show her the totem," Will ordered.

Jessie stilled. "Another one?"

I dug the plastic out of my pocket and handed it over. She held the thing gingerly, her gaze shifting from the icon, to me, and then back again.

"Yours?"

"Not really."

Will filled her in on everything we knew and all that had happened.

Jessie closed her fingers around the plastic wolf. "I don't feel anything."

"Should you?"

"The last one was… creepy. Thing moved, slithered even."

Jessie referred to the black totem I'd been studying in Montana, which should be ashes but probably wasn't. The icon had borne the markings of the matchi-auwishuk manitou.

Technically, manitou means "mystery, godlike, essence." There are many such creatures sprinkled through Ojibwe lore. All are helpful but two – the weendigos, or Great Cannibals, and the matchi-auwishuk, also known as the Evil Ones.

One of Mengele's werewolves had used the matchi-auwishuk totem to become a wolf god, and had planned to rule the world.

What is it with ruling the world? Every nutcase wants to.

"This one moves for me," I murmured, and retrieved the wolf from Jessie's hand. "Growls and mumbles, too."

"Maybe I should hold on to that," Will said.

I shoved the tiny wolf back into my pocket. "The totem stays with me."

Jessie and Will exchanged glances.

"What?" I asked.

"The icon is making you stronger, better," Jessie said.

"That's a bad thing?"

"I'm not sure," Will admitted.

"How can stronger and better be bad?"

"You want a list?" Jessie muttered.

"If I hadn't been able to do a quick change when Billy attacked, both Nic and I would be dead."

Will and Jessie considered me for a moment, then Jessie shrugged. "Let her keep it. If I have to shoot anyone, better her than you."

She winked. I wasn't sure what to make of that.

Weariness washed over me. I had to get some sleep, even if it was six o'clock in the morning.

"Which room's mine?" I asked.

Jessie blinked. "You're staying here?"

"Of course she's staying here. Where else?" Will patted my shoulder and gave me a little shove toward the rear of the house. "Third one on the left."

"Thanks."

"Jess, give her something to sleep in, would you?"

I glanced at Jessie in time to see her scowl. When she caught me looking, she wrinkled her nose. "Come on."

She led me down the hall, stopping at the first door on the right. Inside was a king-sized bed, unmade, along with two suitcases, open and sitting on the floor. Jessie started rooting through a tangle of clothes.

"Did Nic – "

I broke off, mortified that I'd been about to ask her if he'd said anything about me. If I wasn't careful, I'd be begging her to pass him a note in study hall.

"Did he what?" She withdrew a wrinkled, double-X T-shirt and tossed it across the space between us.

"Never mind." I headed for the door.

"He said to tell you, he'd see you again."

I spun around, annoyed at the way my heart leaped. "Were you going to relay that in this century?"

"Don't get snippy with me. I'm not the one who lied to him."

"I didn't lie."

"Omission."

"You think I should tell him, 'Oh, and by the way, I turn furry and snarl beneath the moon. I don't know if I'll ever be cured. I might get worse. And we can't have children. Let's get married'?"

I could have sworn I saw a flash of sympathy in her eyes, but the expression was gone so fast I knew I'd imagined it even before she sniped right back at me,

"Tell him something, Doctor. The man's in love with you."

"Is not."

My denial was automatic, even before I thought of Nic's words and behavior since he'd walked back into my life. There was something between us, but I doubted it was love – at least for him.

"You're right." Jessie let her gaze wander over me from the top of my tangled hair, to the tips of my filthy tennis shoes. "Skinny, blond eggheads probably aren't his type. I'm sure he loathes the very sight of you."

"He acts as if he does."

"And then, let me guess, he sticks his tongue down your throat."

I frowned. Close enough.

"That's what I thought." She drew in a deep breath. "You don't have much experience with men."

"You do?"

"I played with boys most of my life."

I lifted my brows.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Doctor."

"Elise," I corrected. "Doctor makes me feel like I should ask you to bend over and cough."

She almost laughed, and I wasn't even trying to be funny.

"What did Edward say that made you tell Nic to go?" Jessie asked.

He knows the names of the people you've killed.

I couldn't tell Jessie the truth any more than I could have told Nic.

"He said Nic was up to something. That he couldn't be trusted. Someone could get killed."

"Knowing Edward, I'm sure he said that someone would be the G-man."

She knew him well.

"If Franklin was the enemy, he'd have killed you the first chance he got. Bad guys, contrary to most popular motion pictures, do not screw around talking their enemy to death or fashioning Batman-like death traps so the good guys can escape and win in the end. Evil people kill you, then they move on."

She was right; Nic wasn't up to anything but his job. A job that would get me a lethal injection or him a bullet in the head. Choices, choices.

"Mandenauer's probably worried you'll be overcome with lust. When that happens, his perfect world gets shot to shit. You know how he is about his agents having a social life."

Except in Edward's mind, I wasn't an agent and I didn't deserve a life, social or otherwise.

"G-man is pretty hot," Jessie continued. "How did you ever stay a virgin around that guy?"

Discussing my sex life, or lack of it, with a near stranger wasn't a place I was prepared to go. However, Jessie wasn't the type of woman to be denied an answer.

"Come on, tell the truth. You guys did it. You just didn't want Mandenauer to know."

I shook my head before I could stop myself.

Her snort of derision was almost as insulting as her words. "You really are an ice princess."

"Thanks." I headed for the door. "I needed that."

"Wait. Elise." She gave a short, sharp sigh. "Sorry. My mouth gets away from me sometimes. Playing nice is tough."

I glanced over my shoulder. She really did look sorry.

"I never had a girlfriend." She shrugged. "Until – "

"Leigh?"

"Zee. That didn't go well."

Which was putting it mildly. I was surprised Jessie had been able to bond with Leigh at all after the fiasco in Miniwa. Of course, they were two of a kind.

Still, knowing that Jessie had been as much of a social reject as I was helped. I understood her better. I even liked her a little.

"Was Leigh the same?" I couldn't help but ask. "Hard time making friends like…" I was going to say us, but I couldn't manage to articulate what a loser I'd been.

"Leigh?" Jessie laughed. "No. She was the duchess of pom-pom."

"I'm sorry?"

"The prom queen, the cheerleader, the quarterback's girl. I can't believe I didn't shoot her when I had the chance."

Jessie's words made me smile. Girls like Leigh had set my teeth on edge, too – back when such things had made a difference.

But once you knew what kind of monsters lived in the world, the petty nonsense of adolescence lost its power to terrify. One less thing.

"If Franklin shows up again, screw him."

I wasn't sure if she meant screw him… or screw him. Either way –

"Huh?"

"Have sex," she clarified with a roll of her eyes. "Maybe if you do, you won't be so damn annoying."

I'd thought we'd made a certain peace, yet here she was insulting me. I didn't get it.

"I can't," I said.

"You want to die without ever knowing what it's like to be with someone you love?"

"Who said I love him?"

"I may not be the most sensitive person on earth, but I do know love when I see it. What you feel is all over your face every time you say his name."

I mumbled something vile and kicked the door. Jessie snickered. "Men are dense. I don't think he knows."

"What about Will?"

"He's more with it than most, but he won't tell anyone."

We were back in study hall again. I felt like a fool.

"So whaddya think?" Jessie pressed. "If G-man shows up we can make ourselves scarce. I'll take Mandenauer on a wild-wolf chase."

I shook my head. "When I fell in love, my whole life changed."

"Falling in love will do that."

"Not the way it did for me. Who knows what I might become if I sleep with Nic?"

"You're a werewolf, Elise." Jessie spread her hands. "What more can the universe do to you?"

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