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Dark Moon (Chapter Ten)

Jessie drew her .44 a millisecond ahead of Leigh's Glock. They leveled the barrels on my face. A gun for each nostril. How poetic.

I wanted to duck, but I knew them too well. They'd shoot first, say oops later.

I don't think Damien meant to give me up. He was in shock.

And why wouldn't he be? Who would guess that the most feared werewolf hunter on the planet kept his very own werewolf close at hand?

Not me, if I hadn't been the werewolf in question.

"Everybody calm down," Will murmured.

I'd always liked him.

"Hold on, Leigh." This was Damien. "She isn't – "

"What?" Leigh's blue eyes narrowed. "Human? We got that."

"No. I mean yes. Hell." He sent me an apologetic glance, then tried to inch between me and the guns. I elbowed him back.

"Ah, ah, ah," Leigh warned. "No sudden moves."

Damien stopped pushing me, and I stepped in front of him, putting myself closer to the weapons. Leigh lifted her brows, and her eyes warmed just a little.

"She's not like the others," Damien continued. "When I said she was like me, I meant it. She's different, too."

"Does Mandenauer know?" Jessie blurted.

"Of course," I said.

"As if we'll believe anything you have to say."

"You're the one who asked. Call Edward. Believe him."

Everyone went silent. They knew as well as I did that if Edward didn't know I was a werewolf before, and he found out now, he'd blow my brains out faster than I could say "Have mercy."

"Call him," Jessie ordered.

Amazingly, Leigh did so without argument. Two minutes later, she disconnected her cell call to Edward.

"Well?" Jessie demanded when Leigh just stared at me.

"He says we should leave her alone."

"He understands she turns furry under the moon?"

"Edward agreed with Damien. She's different, too."

After another moment's hesitation, Jessie put away her gun.

I felt no more at ease without the weapons staring me in the face, probably because four pairs of eyes were.

"Is there somewhere we can talk?" I asked.

I still wore only a T-shirt and sweatpants, and the November night wasn't any warmer in Wisconsin than it had been in Montana. Without my fur, I was freezing.

"We've rented a house next to the cop shop," Leigh said. "We can go there."

"Where did Edward take Nic?"

"Mandenauer has a room over the antiques store," Jessie told me. "I'm sure he feels right at home there."

I peered at the buildings lining the street and knew without being told which was his. Windows at the front, so he could watch the town; I'd bet there were also windows at the back, so he could observe whatever came out of the woods. A second-story room is always the best choice for both offense and defense.

As we continued toward the rental property I was struck by the silence. No dogs barked. Not a baby cried. There wasn't a single light in any of the houses or the businesses.

"Too quiet," I murmured.

Leigh cast a quick glance over her shoulder. The expression on her face caused a shiver of premonition to dance down my spine. I imagined an empty town, a very full forest.

"No one's been bitten," Will said.

"Then – "

"What are we doing here?" Jessie interrupted. "We'll get to that."

We reached a large log house at the end of the street. The porch was a bit rickety, but other than that the place seemed sturdy enough. After digging a key from her jeans, Jessie unlocked the front door, snapped on the lights. We blinked in the electric glare.

Jessie motioned me inside. As I inched past her she plastered her shoulders to the door, insuring we didn't touch, even by accident. I tried not to let that bother me, but it did. I'd always been lonely, but since no one knew of my affliction but Edward, the cringing in my presence had been kept to a minimum.

We took seats in the small living room, and more staring ensued. Jessie, never a patient woman, was the first to speak. "Talk, Doctor, or I'll make you."

She was getting on my nerves. "I'd like to see you try."

Jessie came to her feet and so did I. Though we were the same height, she probably had ten pounds on me. Nevertheless, I knew who would win a physical fight. If only she didn't have that gun filled with silver.

Will grabbed her hand before she could draw the weapon. Leigh put herself between us, and Damien reached out to halt my mad rush. But right before his hand touched me, he snatched it back.

The movement made me pause, remembering why I'd kept my secret all these years. If Damien couldn't handle what I was, how could I expect anyone to? Especially anyone like Nic.

If I told him the truth, he'd think me insane. If I showed him, he'd find me both hideous and terrifying.

Better he hated me for a selfish, unloving bitch than that.

Defeated, I collapsed in my chair. "What do you want to know?"

The others sat. At first no one spoke, then they all spoke at once.

"Who?" Jessie asked.

"When?" That was Damien.

"How?" murmured Will.

Leigh merely said, "Why?"

I looked at her. "Why what?"

"Why haven't you been able to cure yourself?"

Since my antidote had cured Leigh, but not Damien, she'd called and harassed me continuously. She'd often been rude, crude, condescending. I'd put up with it because I understood her smart mouth and habitual snarl were rooted in fear.

If I couldn't cure Damien, no one could.

"It's not for lack of trying," I said.

The room went momentarily silent, until Will broke the ice. "Who bit you?" he clarified. "Where? When?"

"I wasn't bitten."

All four of them glanced at one another, then back at me.

"Maybe you should start at the beginning," Will said.

I took a deep breath and a moment to think. I'd never told anyone my story before.

"When werewolves touch in human form we feel each other's power and the demon that sleeps inside of us." I glanced at Damien. "But I don't have a demon, and neither do you."

"I had one," he murmured. "At first."

Damien had been like all the rest, until he'd run afoul of an Ozark Mountain magic woman. He'd been blessed to lose the demon and cursed to remember all that he'd done while having it.

"You're working for the good guys now," Leigh told him. "You're making up for all that you did."

"I can't make up for that. There isn't enough time on this earth."

Leigh lifted her eyes to mine over the top of his head. I could read her thoughts loud and clear.

Fix him, she begged, as she had a hundred times before.

"Get on with the story, Doc," Jessie urged. "We don't have all night."

My story wouldn't take that long, since it was relatively simple.

"I wasn't bitten," I said. "My mother was."

Damien's head came up. "Lycanthropy isn't hereditary. A werewolf can't breed."

"Can they?" Leigh's voice quavered.

Her concern was understandable. I wouldn't want to have puppies, either.

"No," I assured her, and she visibly relaxed.

"As Edward tells it, my mother was bitten while she was pregnant with me. The shock sent her into early labor."

"But – " Jessie frowned. "I thought the virus was passed through saliva."

"Right."

I didn't elaborate. Within a few seconds, the light dawned on them all.

Jessie and Leigh paled. Hell, so did Will. Only Damien had the strength to articulate the truth. "She was bitten in the stomach?"

I nodded.

"And you?"

"The best I can figure is that the virus entered the amniotic fluid, infecting me, though I wasn't affected the way most humans are."

"You shifted, but you weren't possessed."

"Pretty much."

"What happened to your mother?" Leigh was staring at me with more sympathy than I'd ever seen in her eyes, except when she was gazing at Damien.

"The change killed her."

Which was true. She'd changed, then Edward had killed her.

The room went silent. At least no one said they were sorry. They'd have been lying. My mother, once bitten, had been doomed.

"What about your father?" Leigh asked.

"My entire family was wiped out by the werewolves that bit my mother."

Leigh's eyes softened for an instant. "Sorry. That's rough."

She should know.

"When did you realize you were different?" Damien asked.

"I was twenty-two."

His eyes widened. "You were normal until then?"

I didn't know how normal I'd been – an orphan, raised by the man who'd killed my mother – but I nodded anyway.

"What caused it?"

"At the time I had no idea."

As if the change had happened yesterday instead of seven years ago, the fear came back, along with the pounding panic, the crushing pain.

"I was in college at Stanford – "

"Nice," Jessie muttered.

"Edward spared no expense."

Both she and Leigh frowned. "Mandenauer paid for your schooling?"

"Edward has paid for everything."

As a child I hadn't known why Edward was caring for me, I'd only been glad that he was. I had no one else.

After I learned the truth, I'd figured he felt guilty about making me an orphan. Recently, I'd come to understand his assistance had been based on suspicion.

He'd wondered what I might become and when. The only reason he hadn't killed me when I changed was because I was different, and that difference had been useful to him.

"I always thought there was something going on between the two of you." Jessie's gaze wandered over me again.

For a second I didn't understand what she meant. When I did, my cheeks flushed, and my fists clenched.

"He didn't pay for me, if that's what you're insinuating."

"If the name slut fits…"

"Gutter brain," I muttered, which only made Leigh snicker.

"Stop it," Will snapped. "Let Elise finish."

Jessie and Leigh didn't appear contrite, but they did shut up.

"The first change came under the wolf moon," I began.

"When the hell is that?"

I should have known Jessie wouldn't be able to shut up completely.

"January," Will said, shooting her a quelling look. "When the wolves howl with hunger in the depths of the winter snows."

"Well, not at Stanford," I allowed, "but it was January. As I'm sure you're all aware, full moons are a busy time."

Just ask any ER physician, maternity floor nurse, psychiatric attendant, or waitress at the nearest twenty-four-hour greasy spoon.

My last semester before medical school – new classes, new books, new challenges – I'd been excited, anxious, and in love.

"Why then?" Damien asked. "Wouldn't the changes of puberty initiate… other changes?"

I hadn't considered the notion. But now that I thought about it, Edward had.

The years between twelve and fourteen were the only ones I'd spent with him. He'd been possessed by the desire to live in a castle in his native land. To hell and gone, the middle of nowhere, practically on top of a mountain. While there, I'd had a tutor. A huge hulking bear of a man, who was as frightening as he was smart.

When I'd been sent to Austria three days past my fourteenth birthday, I'd thought I'd done something wrong. What I had done was gotten my period and neglected to grow fangs. Good girl. Funny how things made sense from a distance of years.

"I'd think if you were gonna go furry," Jessie murmured, "you'd have done it right away. Got an explanation for that, Wonder Doc?"

I was used to a certain amount of respect, if not for the Ph.D. behind my name, then for the advances I'd made in lycanthropy research. Trust Jessie not to give a shit about either one.

"I have a theory."

"Which is about as close as we're going to get to an answer, I'm sure." Jessie sighed. "Get on with it."

"I believe the small amount of virus I received in utero lay dormant. When it was activated, there was only enough to cause the change, not enough to…"

I wasn't sure how to articulate what happened to a human being when the virus turned them into a monster.

"To strangle your soul," Damien whispered.

Silence settled over us all until I broke it with a simple, "Yes."

"So you're the perfect werewolf?" Leigh prodded. "All the superpowers without the pesky demon?"

"I wouldn't say perfect. It's not exactly fun to change."

Or at least it hadn't been until yesterday.

"I remember," Leigh murmured.

When a person is bitten, they experience a kind of collective consciousness. As the virus penetrates their blood, they imagine the coming change, remembering things that have happened to others. They feel the pain, the power, both the terror and the temptation.

"What about the blood lust?" Damien asked. "The love of the kill?"

"The killing sickened me. Not that I didn't do it. I couldn't stop myself."

At my words, both Leigh's and Jessie's fingers crept toward their guns. I doubted they even knew they were moving, so deeply ingrained was their response to a threat.

"But I can stop myself now." f hey froze, then frowned at each other.

"I invented a serum. Under a full moon I'll still change, but I'm not compelled to kill."

Their hands left their weapons.

"I wouldn't mind some of that sauce," Damien murmured.

"I'd be happy to share," I said. "If it hadn't blown up with the compound."

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