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Hidden Moon (Chapter 36)

The gypsy girl stood near a door that revealed a small slice of the outside world – dark sky and a full, silver moon.

I glanced uneasily at Malachi, who sat in one corner of the cage, back pressed to the wall. How long had we been here? Was it still the night before the eclipse or was it the night of? Either way, I had a very bad feeling I'd been stuck in here with him for a reason. One I was not going to like.

Sabina let the door slide closed and walked toward us across the long, empty expanse of what appeared to be a warehouse. I'd been here before.

"We're behind the Gazette" I said. "Where they load the trucks."

Sabina smiled and suddenly she didn't seem so sweet and helpless anymore; I doubted she ever had been.

"Balthazar was kind enough to give me his key before…" She paused. "Well, just before."

Before he'd turned into a wolf? Before he'd exploded and turned into ash? Did it really matter?

"How is it that you can suddenly talk?" I asked.

"I could always talk; I chose not to. When you're mute, people think you're deaf, too. You find out all sorts of things."

"You haven't talked for centuries?" I found that hard to believe.

"Not to anyone I couldn't trust."

"Edana," Mal muttered, and the way he said it made me glad I wasn't her.

"Let me out of here," I demanded.

"No."

"Sabina," Mal began. "You know what's going to happen in a few minutes."

I glanced at him uneasily. "A few minutes?"

"I feel the eclipse coming."

Ah, hell.

Sabina just stood on the other side of the double bars, staring at us.

"Sabina!" Mal said more loudly.

Her gaze met his. "You have to do it, ruvanush. It's the only way."

"I won't."

"But you will." Her lips curved. "You won't be able to help yourself."

"Do what?" I asked.

"He hasn't told you? And here I figured he'd spill his guts so you'd understand why he had to kill you. If it was me, I wouldn't care. I'd do what had to be done; I always do. But him – " She cast a disgusted glance at Malachi. "Over two hundred years looking for you, then he refuses to kill you."

"I – I don't understand. How could he have been looking for me for two hundred years? I'm not immortal."

Sabina made a tsking sound and shook her head.

"Didn't tell her that either, ruvanush? Shame on you. At least she should know why you fucked her."

I winced. I had liked Sabina so much better as a mute.

"And why she let you."

Malachi's head dropped between his knees, and his hair fell over his face.

"What's she talking about?"

He didn't answer. However, Sabina couldn't seem to shut up. "Have you been plagued by mist lately?"

"There's always mist…" I waved my hand. "Because of the mountains."

"Or the ruvanush. The mist is his magic."

I frowned, remembering the vapor shooting from Mal's fingers when he'd changed half his band from animal to human, and how it had wandered through my dreams of a mystery lover.

"He didn't have time to court you," Sabina said. "He had to make you want him. He's become quite good at it. Usually the women come to him. But not you."

Had Malachi been playing me all along? Why should he be any different?

"The mist is a part of him," Sabina said. "It carries his scent, his essence, so that when you met him, he seemed familiar and safe."

I wanted to hit something, or someone.

"He had to see if you were the one who could end his curse," Sabina continued, "and ours, too."

I cast Malachi an evil glare. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

"Claire – ," he began, but I looked away.

"How would he know if I was the one?"

"You have a birthmark." It wasn't a question.

In my mind's eye I saw Mal leaning over me, buried inside of me, kissing the mark, and whispering, "It's you."

I had wanted him much faster than I should have. Me, who hadn't wanted anyone since Atlanta. I hadn't wondered why; I'd just been happy that I had.

"He probably had you begging him to take what he'd been after all along."

I swallowed thickly, mortified to realize she was right.

"Is this true?" I asked. "You seduced me with the mist? You slept with me to see if I bore a mark?"

And then told all of his people that I had? My mortification deepened.

"He had to."

I rounded on Sabina, fists clenched. "I didn't ask you!"

She giggled, put her fingers to her lips, and made the motion of turning a lock, then throwing away the key.

"You knew what had happened to me" – I turned back to Mal – "yet you raped me, too?"

His head came up. "I wouldn't."

"If the sex is not given freely, that's exactly what you did."

"I stopped using magic days ago. Before I ever – "

"What? Touched me, kissed me, went down on me?"

"Made love to you."

"Love?" I laughed. "Right."

"I stopped," he insisted. "I was never inside of you because of magic."

"You were inside my head. You made me want you."

"That was before I knew – " He broke off.

"Knew what?"

"That I'd rather stay like this forever than hurt you."

"Asshole," Sabina muttered. "You try crawling on your belly for two centuries."

"There has to be another way!" Mal shouted. "I'm not going to hurt her."

Sabina just smiled.

Mal hit the bars and the cage rattled. "Let me out!"

"No."

"What does my birthmark have to do with anything?" I asked.

Sabina turned her attention to me, and Mal gave up trying to convince her, though from the way he continued to stare in her direction, he hadn't given up trying something.

"In every generation, one female descendant of the witch who cursed us bears that mark."

I didn't recall any witches on my family tree, but that didn't mean they weren't there.

"Rhiannon had many children, with many different men. Her descendants spread all over the globe. We traced them as best we could, but the records from that time aren't that good. We've been trying to find one who bears the mark for hundreds of years."

I glanced at Mal, who still glared at Sabina. "He's been seducing women for centuries to get a look at their breasts?"

Sabina shrugged, which I took as a yes.

I don't know why the thought of Mal screwing his way through the centuries bothered me. It wasn't as if we were going to get married and live happily ever after.

"You've never found a single descendant who bears the mark until me?"

"Poor timing appears to be a hallmark of the curse."

"Sabina," Mal murmured. "Why are you doing this? You were such a sweet child. Now you're almost… evil." He said the last word as if it were a revelation.

"Took you long enough to catch on, ruvanush." Sabina tossed the swastika-marked rune into the air.

"I don't understand," I said. "You're a snake."

"As long as I have this, I can become a wolf." She stopped tossing the rune and rolled it between her fingers. "I am reborn."

"How does it work?" I asked.

"Under the moon I hold the rune; I say an incantation, and I become a wolf."

"That's it?"

She shrugged. "I feed the swastika with the blood of the pure."

"Feed it." My lip curled.

"Trace the outline."

"So it isn't red paint."

She merely raised an eyebrow. There had always been something creepy about that rune.

"How long have you been moonlighting as a werewolf?"

"A week." She stretched sinuously, still more snake-like than canine. "God, I love it."

"Why now? Why here?"

"The tree."

We'd kind of figured that, too.

"To make a rune of such power, I needed a tree that was as old as these hills, one that had stood the test of fire beneath the moon."

I remembered the long black lightning mark on the trunk.

"I wasn't sure it would work, but there's power there – the storm, the earth and sky. Magic. Now everything's going to be all right."

For her, anyway. My life appeared kind of dim.

"Once I was a wolf, I wanted to make more like me. I was so tired of being alone."

"You haven't been alone," Mal said. "You've been with people who loved you."

"No one was like me. I was a snake among mammals. You know I never had sex until I was a wolf?"

Too much information! I wanted to slap my hands over my ears.

"Not Josh."

"No. He was too much of a pig to give the gift of eternal life. I was walking along; he stopped his car, picked me up. I told him I lived down a deserted deadend road… I would have made him like me, but he grabbed me before I could change and tried to – " Her eyes darkened.

"I know," I said, sympathetic for a moment.

"I shifted and I killed him; then I drank his blood to make certain he'd never rise again."

My sympathy didn't last very long. Josh hadn't deserved that, although there'd been times I'd imagined much worse.

Sabina scowled at Mal. "Once you put an end to my curse by doing what you have to do, then I can be a wolf whenever I want to."

"Why would you want to be a wolf?" I asked.

"I'm tired of being weak. I want to run free and have everyone fear me."

"But your arm – "

"What about it?"

"I didn't think becoming a werewolf would cure it."

"So I limp a little. I'm still so much stronger than any human." She tossed the rune one last time into the air, then slid it into her pocket.

" 'Beware the devil who is a shape-shifter,'" I murmured. "Edana meant you. She showed me the wolf in her crystal ball, but it was too small to recognize the eyes."

Although it had held up its paw, I'd figured the thing was hunting. It never occurred to me the wolf might have a crippled appendage – in both forms.

"I knew she was up to something. Crazy old bat."

"Pot. Kettle," I pointed out.

"Sticks and stones." Sabina started for the door. "Pretty soon I'll have everything I want, and you'll be dead."

I cast a wary glance at Mal. He was breathing heavily. Sweat rolled down his face as he fought the battle with himself.

"I'll just leave you two alone. I really don't want to watch." Her eyes met mine. "I liked you, Claire. You were nice to me."

"Then let me out of here!"

"I didn't like you that much," she said, and opened the door.

Moonlight spilled in. The silver flash washed over her face, and she breathed it in like ambrosia.

"When the Earth completely blocks the sun's light from the moon, he'll shift." She turned back, and though her face lay in shadow, her eyes glowed. "The legends say that as he drinks the life of the one who made him beneath the hidden moon, he'll return to the form he once knew, and the curse will be broken."

"I didn't make him."

"Close enough."

Sabina reached into her pocket and removed the rune; then as she slipped out of her clothes, she chanted in the language of the Rom. When she was completely naked, she lifted the talisman, and the fading glow of the moon shimmered over her like a waterfall. She fell in a heap.

I glanced at Mal, but he was having problems of his own, curled into a ball, clutching his stomach as if in agony. Writhing, twisting, fighting the change. I didn't know how long he could keep that up, but I doubted it would be long enough.

When I returned my gaze to Sabina, a silvery glow outlined her body, undulating, changing, re-forming human into animal. Between one blink and the next, a black wolf rose from the ground where the woman had been. The sleek beast stared at me with human eyes. Then Sabina slipped out the open door, leaving me alone with my fate.

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