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Hidden Moon (Chapter 23)

"By the time I called the Atlanta PD," Grace continued, "they'd already heard from his people. Logan never made it home last night." Grace pulled out a notepad. "I need to ask you a few questions."

I'd been staring out the window trying to process what she'd just said. I jerked my gaze back to her face. "I already told you everything."

"Now you'll make a statement."

"You think I lied? You think I…" I paused. "What do you think?"

"Personally, I think Logan knew you were going to press charges and ran."

"Why would he do that? It makes him look guilty."

"He is guilty, Claire."

"He doesn't think he is. He actually believes I owed him sex."

"They all do," Grace said drily. "But most of them don't force the issue."

"I still don't think he'd run. Not yet."

Grace shrugged. "Doesn't really matter. When we find him, we'll prosecute. But right now I need to know exactly what happened at your house from the minute he showed up until the minute he left your sight."

I told her, not stopping until I reached the part where I walked into her office and she showed me the newspaper.

"Cartwright said Logan got into his car and drove away?"

"That's what he said."

"You didn't see it yourself."

"No."

"Mmm."

"What's 'mmm'?"

"Cartwright could have done something with him."

"Why?" I "He hurt you. I'd like to kill the guy."

My eyes widened. "You just skipped from missing to murdered."

"I'm funny that way."

"Grace, you can't actually think Malachi killed Josh."

"I think all sorts of things until I'm proven wrong."

"He wouldn't – "

"You barely know him, Claire." Grace shuffled her papers impatiently. "You have no idea what he's capable of."

She was right, so I changed the subject. "What happened this morning?"

"Nothing."

"You went hunting?"

"Yes."

"I love it when you give one-word answers. Gets me all tingly."

She scowled and slapped my statement into a file. "There isn't anything to tell. We went into the woods, traipsed around for hours, and found absolutely nothing. No wolf, no tracks, no missing tourist, no signs of a camp."

"Weird."

"Not really. The mountains go on for miles." She spread her hands. "If someone, or something, really wants to hide, and knows how…"

Her voice trailed off, but I heard what she wasn't saying. We could look for years and never find the man or the beast. Except –

"This morning, just before the sun came up, I heard wolves."

"Plural?" Grace asked.

"Yeah."

"Fuck."

"Mmm."

"Could you tell where they were?"

I shook my head. "When the sun broke over the mountains, they went silent – bam – mid-howl. It was… kind of spooky."

"I like this less and less every day."

We remained quiet for several minutes, thinking about what might happen with more wolves than one. None of it was good.

"Did you see Balthazar in the woods?" I asked.

Grace frowned. "No. Why?"

"Weasel-faced guy at the Gazette said he went after you to get a story."

"Never saw him. Maybe he got eaten by the wildlife."

"Grace!"

"It could happen."

The rest of the day passed quickly, and when dusk arrived I found myself once again driving toward Lunar Lake.

Only one bouncer – the dark burly man – stood next to the ticket booth tonight. Since the crowd appeared even larger than the one on the previous evening, I wondered why the powers that be – Mal – had decided less was more.

I dug money out of my pocket and along with it came the wooden chip with the swastika. I set the talisman on the shelf and shoved the money through the small hole beneath the barred window.

"Where did you get that?"

I glanced up to find the ticket taker's gaze had fallen on the amulet. He spoke English with an Irish accent that wasn't half as charming as Mal's – probably because of the permanent scowl marring his face.

"It was found near here."

"That's powerful Rom magic." His skeletal fingers tried to reach beneath the bars and snatch it, but I got there first. "A gadje should never touch that!"

The bouncer turned toward me and emitted a low rumble that had me backing up fast.

"W-why?" I managed.

"You're marime" the old guy said. "Give it to me."

"Uh, no." Grace would have my head. This was evidence. Maybe.

"Hogarth," he said, and the big man moved forward. I turned to run and smacked into Malachi.

"What's going on?" he demanded.

Hogarth subsided with a grrr. The old man came out of the booth. "She's got a rune."

Malachi jerked his head at the ticket seller, who scuttled behind the iron bars before he turned to Hogarth. "Don't you have a show to do?"

The bouncer lumbered away, but not before glaring in my direction. I didn't like his eyes. They were small, dark, and a little wild.

"May I see it?" Mal asked.

I handed him the chip. He stared at it for a few seconds, lips tightening.

"Is it yours?" I blurted.

His eyebrows shot up. "Mine? No."

"Your man said it was powerful Rom magic."

"This is an Icelandic rune."

Icelandic, which made sense considering the origin of the swastika. But – "Why would an Icelandic rune be used in Rom magic?"

"Not magic. Not in the way you think. My people consider good luck a type of magic."

"You're saying this is a good-luck charm?"

"Yes. Roms have taken for their own many of the traditions of the countries they wandered through. This is one of them."

"How are they made?"

"Simply enough. Fruit trees are seen as giving life; they bear fruit. A bit of their trunk, a little red paint – "

"Not blood?"

Mal gave a short, sharp laugh. "No."

"The swastika seems an odd choice."

"It's an ancient symbol."

"Protection and rebirth." At his questioning expression, I shrugged. "Internet. Still, considering what you told me about the Nazis…"

"My people don't look at things the way others do. Whoever made this was only thinking about its original intent, which is where the power would come from. Using the symbol as it was meant to be used removes some of the stain of the past."

I doubted the stain on the swastika would ever go away, but one could always hope.

"This was found in the forest where a man was attacked by a wolf," I said. "The man who's still missing and in dire need of rabies shots."

"I don't see what one has to do with the other." Malachi tilted his head, smiled a little. "I doubt a wolf was carrying a rune."

I doubted it, too.

"Well, it didn't belong to the man who was attacked, or so his family said." I paused, considering, then plunged ahead. "Your ticket seller said I shouldn't touch the rune, that I was marime. I thought that meant outcast."

Malachi's smile faded; he suddenly appeared much older. "Marime is both the act of being outcast for unclean behavior and the state of being unclean itself."

"I'm unclean?" I whispered furiously.

Malachi's lips compressed. "Of course not, but – "

"You're not supposed to touch me."

His eyes heated. "What I'm supposed to do and what I will do are two different things."

"What would happen to you if your people found out that you and I – " I broke off. He knew very well what he and I had done.

"I'm their leader. They can do nothing to me."

I had my doubts about that.

"Is that why you came to town and threatened Balthazar this morning?"

His head went up. "You know about that?"

"It's a small town, of which I'm the leader. What do you think?"

He let out his breath in a rush. "I saw that photo, and I wanted to – " His fingers clenched.

"Me, too." I put my hand over his. "I'm sorry you got caught in our little war."

"War?" His face crinkled in confusion.

"Balthazar wants my job. He thinks he can get it if he discredits me."

"So he'll continue to harass us?"

"Most likely. If we continue to see each other."

I waited for him to say last night had been a onetime thing. Considering the taboo that hung over us, how could it be anything else?

Malachi's hand turned beneath mine, relaxing the fist and linking our fingers together, even as he tugged them to the side, behind his leg so no one could see.

"I want to be with you again," he said softly. "Tonight. But perhaps I should come in the back door and leave the same way."

"Not perhaps." I smiled. "Definitely."

"Until later then." Malachi released my hand as the band began to play, signaling the beginning of the show.

"Do you have to perform?"

"No. Tonight is for Hogarth and Mary."

Hogarth didn't look like a performer; he looked like a hit man.

"What does Hogarth do?"

"Wrestles the grizzly."

"Isn't that a little dangerous?"

"What would be interesting about the show if it wasn't dangerous? You think it's safe for Sabina to dance with snakes?"

"I guess not." I only hoped Hogarth didn't end up Swiss cheese while performing in my town.

"And Mary – " I tilted my head. "I thought Mary was a cougar."

"She is."

"You let the cougar do her own show?"

"Ah, no. I meant tonight is Jared's night. He's Mary's…" He paused as if searching for the word. "Trainer."

"The animals aren't loose, are they, free to dart into the crowd and wreak havoc?"

"We take every precaution."

I didn't like the sound of that. "What kind of precautions?"

"We charm the circle. The animals won't go past it."

I stared at him for several seconds. "Tell me you're kidding."

"Yes and no. We do charm the circle. It's our way. But we also have guards with guns. You don't have to worry about your people or your guests. We've never had an incident. Never."

I relaxed somewhat, though I still wanted to shake Joyce for booking such a strange and potentially dangerous show. If I didn't know how much she loved me, I might think she was trying to sabotage me – either in cahoots with Balthazar or maybe to take the mayorship for herself.

But I did know Joyce. She was family – or as close to family as I had these days, except for Grace.

Besides, if Joyce hadn't hired the Gypsies, I wouldn't have met Mal. He'd brought me out of the prison my fear had built; he was leading me back to myself, and I couldn't regret that for an instant.

"I have to go and…" Malachi waved his hand in the direction of the performance.

"Of course."

He hesitated, his gaze dropping to my mouth. I took a breath; my tongue swept my suddenly dry lower lip, and he turned sharply and walked away.

Just his eyes on me had made me want him. If he'd stayed here another second, I would have kissed him, which was probably why he'd taken off in such a hurry. Would his people stone him if they found out about us?

This was the twenty-first century. Malachi could sleep with whomever he wished, just as I could.

Maybe we needed to keep it quiet, but that only added to the thrill. Of course, I didn't know how quiet we could keep it, considering the photo in the paper.

The band went from soft introductory music to a rousing polka, and I glanced at the ring as Hogarth ran in leading an amazingly docile grizzly. Hogarth wore a bright red one-piece Lycra wrestler's suit. Considering his size, his breadth, his huge gut, that was nothing I ever wanted to see again. Lord only knew what might be revealed in the midst of wrestling fever.

My gaze searched for and found several rifle-bearing men, who lurked on the outskirts of the performance ring. From their sober expressions and the professional manner in which they held the guns, they appeared to know what they were doing.

I turned away, planning to wander over to the cotton candy wagon. Not to eat any – the very thought made my teeth ache – just to take a whiff and enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors.

All the usual pastels – pink and blue, as well as the less popular green and yellow – were available, but in the intervening years since I'd been near a cotton candy machine, they'd discovered neon orange, blue, green, purple, as well as silver and black. Times certainly had changed.

As tempting as it was, I never made it to the cotton candy. On the way, I had to pass the fortune-teller's tent.

Five dollars. No waiting.

What the hell? I thought, and slipped inside.

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