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Dark Moon (Chapter Twenty Four)

His gun was filled with lead. Regardless, being shot hurt. Really, really hurt.

And he shot me in the butt. How mortifying.

I wanted to shout, curse, cry. Instead I ran.

At first all I could think of was getting away, so I accelerated in the general direction of Cuba. However, when my skin began to heal the hole with the bullet still inside, I detoured to the cabin.

Approaching from the rear, I sniffed the air and smelled nothing but trees, heard only the wind. Leaping onto the back porch, I imagined myself human and suddenly I was.

The talisman resided in the pocket of Jessie's pants back at the junkyard. Even though I didn't appear to need it anymore, I wanted the icon back. And I'd get it, just as soon as I removed the irritating bullet from my ass.

I could get used to changing back and forth in the blink of an eye. The lack of pain and agony was a definite plus.

Making use of my suddenly opposable thumb, I turned the doorknob, slipped inside, then straight into the bathroom. The glare of the electric light made me flinch even before I saw myself in the mirror.

Dirt streaked my face; my hair was full of leaves and twigs; fiery red scratches marred my arms. Twisting awkwardly, I tried to see my wound, but I couldn't.

The bullet seemed to be scraping me from the inside out. What didn't kill me might just drive me mad. I was going to have to ask for help, and I hated that.

I opened the bathroom door, and yelped. Nic stood on the other side. One glance at my face and he cursed, then shoved his way into the room.

I snatched a towel off the rack and clutched it to my breasts. Stupid. He'd already seen and touched everything already.

"What the hell happened?" Nic demanded.

I wasn't sure where to start.

"I woke up and you were gone. No note. Nothing."

Nic shoved his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end, reminding me of the coarse blond locks of our dream child.

I shoved the image out of my head. That child wasn't real, could never be real, and I had to remember that.

Nic wore nothing but boxers. Too bad I didn't have time to admire his physique. Blood flowed down the back of my legs and dripped onto the floor.

"What the – "?

Nic yanked the towel free and spun me around. I was so shocked, I let him.

"Who shot you?"

"Guy in the junkyard. The owner, or maybe the night watchman."

"I take it you were furry at the time," he murmured. "Or he and I are going to have a discussion."

I glanced over my shoulder and caught an expression of such violence cross his face I was shocked – and a little bit charmed.

I could take care of myself – bullet in the butt notwithstanding – but it was kind of nice for once to have someone else want to look after me.

Nic saw me staring and schooled his face into the stoic mask I'd come to loathe. "You'd better get in the bathtub. You're making a mess."

"Good idea." I climbed in.

"What were you doing at the junkyard?"

Quickly I explained about the phone call, the Edsel, the watchman, and the ghostly wolves. When I was done, Nic stared at me without blinking. "Ghost wolves. Are they something new?"

"I've never heard of them. But now I know why I saw wolf shadows at Lydia's and caught the scent of wolves when everyone else swears there aren't any. At least I'm not nuts."

"Just able to see, smell, and hear things no one else can," he said dryly. "Do you think the disappearing bodies are related somehow?"

I thought for a minute, then shook my head. "The ghost wolves didn't do much beyond bump against me and spread cold spots. I doubt they're killing people. Besides, Sheriff Stephenson was killed with a knife, then marked with a human bite."

"Which means we've got two problems instead of one."

"At least."

"So what's the deal?" He waved at my rear end. "I thought werewolves could heal damn near anything."

"We can. Trouble is, I'm healing faster than usual. You're going to have to dig that out."

He didn't argue. "Got any medical instruments?"

"Not anymore."

"Oh, right. Compound go boom."

Leaning down, Nic peered at my left cheek. Funny how a little bullet and a lot of blood took care of any sexual interest in my nakedness. Or maybe discovering my true nature had already killed that.

"Will left a few things," he said. "Hold on."

He returned a few minutes later with a small leather case. Inside were several lethal-looking blades.

"Filleting knives." Nic began to root around in the medicine cabinet concealed behind the mirror over the sink. "Will must like to fish."

"What are you searching for?"

"Alcohol."

I snorted. "As if I'll get an infection."

"Humor me."

Removing a clear bottle, he doused the smallest of the knives, then withdrew a tweezers from the cabinet and doused that, along with his hands.

"Turn around," he said.

"No problem." I didn't want to watch.

Nic splashed my butt with alcohol, and I nearly jumped out of the tub. "Hey! What did I say about infection?"

"Can you promise I won't get furry if I accidentally cut myself with your blood all over me?"

"I told you. The virus is only passed through saliva when I'm in wolf form."

"But things can change."

He was right. I had no idea what was happening to me. The virus could be mutating, and then everything I knew, or thought I knew, would be wrong.

"Leave it," I said. "I'll live."

"I'm not lame. I won't cut myself. Besides, you've got the handy-dandy antidote. If I get infected, you can cure me."

Could I? I no longer had the formula, and it wasn't exactly simple enough to remember off the top of my head. None of them were.

I hadn't heard from Edward since he'd left town. I was starting to worry. If he were to disappear, along with everything I'd invented, the world, as well as me, was in big-time trouble.

Nic poked me.

"Ow!"

"Hold still or you'll have more holes than you already do." He punctuated his words with another jab.

"I've almost got it."

I stared at the bathroom tile and waited for him to finish. Within three minutes, something pinged against the bathtub, then rolled toward the drain, coming to rest on top of the steel trap.

Nic picked up the bullet. "Constantly amazes me that something this little can do so much damage."

He lifted his gaze and in his eyes I saw many things. Relief, anger, wariness, fear, and something else I couldn't quite place before he turned away, tossing the instruments into the sink and dousing them again with alcohol.

"You'd better take a shower."

His voice was remote once more, and I had to wonder if I'd seen or only imagined the softer emotions crossing his face.

I turned on the water. Even if Nic could get past my being a werewolf, there were so many other things about me he didn't know and never could.

"The wound's already healed over," he murmured.

I couldn't see the hole, and I didn't really want to. Yanking the shower curtain closed, I let the heated water wash the blood from my skin. If only it could wash the blood from my hands – or should I say paws?

"You mind if I stay while you explain what's going on?" he asked.

"Suit yourself." I stuck my head under the spray.

"Who called you?"

"I thought it was Edward."

Now I wasn't so sure.

"Does he have your research?"

"I hope so."

"Not having it. That's bad?"

"You have no idea." I scrubbed soap into my hair, working the suds from my scalp all the way to the ends. "Not only is the formula for the antidote gone, but so is the formula for me."

Nic yanked back the shower curtain. "What happens, exactly, if you don't take your medicine? I thought you were different."

"I am." I pulled on the plastic. "You mind?"

He scowled but drew the curtain across the rod with a shriek of metal rings, and I began to rinse my hair.

"Werewolves can't help but change under the full moon," I explained. "There's no resisting its pull. I've tried to cure the transformation, but I've never been able to."

"So if you have to change, how are you different?"

"I was never possessed by evil – what we call the 'demon.' Killing people sickened me."

Nic had never been dumb. He heard what I wasn't saying. "You never liked to kill, but you did."

"The first time, the transformation is frightening, maddening."

The power is exhilarating.

The words whispered through my brain. Was that my thought or someone else's?

Someone else's ?

I must have lost too much blood.

"The hunger," I whispered. "I can't describe it."

The agony in my belly, the pounding of my pulse, the shrieking in my head. Despite the steamy heat surrounding me, I shivered.

"You'll do anything to make the torment stop. Anything."

Silence from the other side of the curtain spoke louder than words. Nic was wondering why I hadn't eaten a silver bullet rather than a person. I'd wondered that myself. At least he didn't ask.

"If a werewolf doesn't partake of human blood on the night of the full moon, what happens? He dies?"

"No such luck."

If it were that easy, Edward could just lock up all the werewolves and forget about the key.

"Only silver ends a lycanthrope's existence. Or being killed by another werewolf. However, that's rare."

I'd found it bizarre that a lycanthrope would murder a human, yet balk at killing another werewolf, but no one ever said they were logical.

"Why is it rare?"

"There's a fail-safe, for want of a better term. Maybe a taboo, I guess, against killing our own kind. My personal theory is that the fail-safe is part of the demon."

"Which you don't have," Nic said slowly. "And neither does Damien."

Damien's curse had taken away not only his demon but any lingering concern about the werewolf rules.

He'd also discovered that killing other werewolves took the edge off that pesky need for human sustenance. Convenient for him, since he hadn't had access to my serum.

"What about that Weendigo you and Lydia were discussing? The Great Cannibal?"

"I've known one – Hector Menendez. He was demon personified, and he had no problem killing werewolves."

"Which screws up your personal theory."

I'd thought a lot about Hector. Probably too much in the dark of the night.

"Since Hector had no problem breaking human taboos – " I began.

"Such as?"

"Eating people when he was still a people."

"I thought he was a werewolf cannibal."

"With Hector we got a twofer."

"A cannibal in both forms," Nic murmured, "so all of his fail-safes were broken."

I'd always enjoyed talking with Nic. He was so quick and bright, he'd often finish my thoughts before they came out of my mouth. That hadn't changed, even though almost everything else had.

"That's my theory," I agreed.

"But Hector's a little too dead to ask about it."

"Exactly."

"With regular werewolves, those with the demon and no access to your serum, what happens under the full moon?"

"The madness takes over, if they don't shift voluntarily, they'll do so automatically."

I closed my eyes and let the water beat down on my face, but nothing could make those memories go away.

Nic remained silent for several minutes. When he spoke again, I understood why. "Mandenauer told me you experienced your first transformation at Stanford. But why then?"

Hell. Trust Edward to tell Nic just enough to make him curious and not enough to make him stop questioning me.

I shut off the shower, then wrapped myself in a towel before opening the curtain.

Nic leaned against the sink, arms crossed over his bare chest. His biceps bulged; his stomach was hard and flat, his legs long, muscled, and lightly covered with hair. I remembered what his hands felt like, what his skin tasted like. I forced myself to walk away, but Nic followed me into my bedroom and brought with him his questions.

"Was it the moon? Your age? A spell?" He made a disgusted sound. "A spell. I never thought I'd hear myself ask that."

I moved to the window, pushed the curtain aside, and let the silver soothe me. Funny, the icy glow that beat down from the sky, to me as strong as the sun in the middle of July, used to upset me. Now I was drawn to it.

"Does it matter?" I asked. "There's no going back."

Nic came up behind me, and I caught the scent of his hair, felt the heat pulsing off him like steam.

"Tell me," he insisted. "I deserve to know."

He did, although I didn't want to be the one to tell him. Too bad I was the only one here.

"Love," I said. "Love changed me."

"I don't understand."

I wasn't sure what else to say, so I hesitated. He lost his patience, not that he had much to begin with, and grabbed me by the shoulders, spinning me around.

"Tell me," he ordered through gritted teeth.

"Fine," I spat, through teeth just as tight. "Dopamine rushing through the brain, adrenaline making the heart pound, phenylethylamine creating the feeling of bliss, oxytocin bringing about sexual arousal."

My tone was clinical. I refused to look Nic in the eye.

He released me as if I'd suddenly sprouted horns.

Maybe I had. "Falling in love with me made you a werewolf?"

"No. My mother being bitten by a monster was what made me a werewolf. The virus was there waiting.

It was only a matter of time."

"And the right person."

I shrugged and turned back to the window.

"You changed and then you disappeared. But what happened in between? You said the hunger was too much to bear the first time."

"It was."

"You killed someone?"

"Yes."

"And then?"

I stared at the moon, the trees, the night, and I remembered.

Then Edward had locked me in a cage.

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