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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 16)

That there were no missing persons reports continued to bother me. Were the werewolves only killing transients? I had a hard time accepting that.

In wolf form, werewolves were hunters, like me. When presented with a weaker entity, they attacked.

They might posses human level intelligence, but I'd never known them to be able to pound back the bloodlust.

They saw people in the woods and they killed them. Plain, simple, to the point. I doubt they stopped long enough to ask for a resume.

I put the thought aside and headed to my apartment. I had more pressing concerns.

The route into the woods was as familiar as the array of cars surrounding the tavern and the wail of jazz through the open windows.

I glanced at my watch. Coming up on 5:00 a.m. Did anyone ever go home around here?

I retrieved a spare .22 from my glove compartment and shoved the smaller gun into the waistband of my jeans. They were too tight to hide the thing, but I wasn't going anywhere without a silver bullet-firing weapon again. I might be slow, but eventually I caught on.

Dirty, hungry, tired, I needed a shower, food, and bed in that order. But before I climbed the steps to my lonely room, I wanted to check behind the Dumpster one last time. Maybe the gun had fallen into a hole or something.

I was grasping. Pretty much anyone could have taken the gun while I'd been inside the tavern. Of course he'd have to have been watching me hide the thing… a fact I didn't want to examine too closely.

As I approached the garbage bin, a fat raccoon shot a glare in my direction and waddled away. Better than a rat, though I bet a few of them made regular visits here as well. I wasn't afraid of animals. How could I be? But rats made me shudder. What was with those hairless tails anyway?

I'd brought the flashlight from my car, and I shone the beam back and forth across the front of the Dumpster, across the paper-strewn ground, then behind. Not a single gleam of gunmetal made my life any easier. It was bad enough I'd have to admit taking Damien's gun; I didn't want to tell him I'd lost it, too.

Kneeling next to the wall, I reached into the crack between the building and the steel container.

Something skittered out the other side and ran away.

"I did not hear that," I assured myself.

I continued to feel around but came up with nothing.

The shriek of a dying animal shot my heart straight into my throat. Whatever had run from me had slammed straight into something else. Bummer for him.

I retrieved my hand, sat back on my heels, scowled at the scum under my nails. A growl rumbled along my spine like sandpaper. Slowly I straightened, then turned.

"One, two, three, four, five. Shitty odds," I muttered, and drew the gun.

I didn't know how many bullets I had. Not enough. Who'd have thought I'd need more than a clip's worth to get from my car to the house?

The wolves advanced, legs stiff, hackles raised. My first bullet kicked up dirt in front of the lead animal.

His lip curled; then he threw up his head as if laughing at me.

I shot a glance toward the staircase that led to my apartment. A wolf sat on the bottom step, tongue lolling as he panted like a great big dog.

I could shoot him and try to get to my apartment, but there were five – I looked back just as several shadows detached themselves from the trees and crossed the parking lot – make that ten wolves behind me. Thank God none of them were white. Still, I was in serious trouble.

The main wolf pack was between me and the tavern. I could yell for help, but the music was too loud.

They'd never hear me.

My mind raced as fast as my heart. I cast a glance toward Damien's cabin. Nothing between it and me but grass. That building was the only chance I had.

I fired another shot, actually hit one of them this time. The flames, the stench of burning flesh and fur, the howi of the dying distracted the others long enough for me to achieve a small lead.

I'd take what I could get. They were going to catch me. There was no way I could outrun close to a dozen wolves. Hell, I couldn't outrun one, but I had to try.

A chorus of howls rose behind me, so loud I flinched, stumbled, and nearly fell. Their footsteps echoed mine. The warmth of their breath brushed my calves. The scent of predator after prey cascaded through the night – a sharp and gamy aroma reminiscent of fear and death.

I couldn't recall if I'd locked Damien's door after I'd picked it. If I had, I was dead or soon to be furry.

Either way, I'd take a few of them with me.

I reached for the knob, but the door swung open. I smashed into Damien's chest.

"Oomph," he said, and caught me.

My momentum propelled us inside the cabin.

"Shut it! Shut it!" I shouted, kicking back, managing to catch the door with my heel.

I tensed, expecting bodies to thud against the other side. Glancing at the window, I waited for the shadow, the crash, death.

Nothing happened.

I pulled free of Damien's arms, ran to the glass. The first rays of sun lightened the eastern horizon, threw streams of pink and gray across the hauntingly empty clearing.

"Are you all right?"

I ignored him, stepping to the door, yanking it open, and sticking my gun outside. The wind blew a leaf end over end across the threshold.

"Did you see them?" I asked.

"Who?"

"Couldn't you hear them?"

He didn't answer and I turned. Gently he removed the gun from my shaking hand. "There's nothing there, Leigh."

"Ten. Maybe more. They howled. Chased me. You had to see them."

"All I saw was you."

My head jerked up. Our eyes met and something passed between us that had nothing to do with the situation. We both remembered the last time we'd been together. Remembered it and wanted more.

He was the first to look away. We'd been gazing at each other so intently, the loss of that contact was like a physical break. I took a single step toward him before I caught myself. Now was not the time.

He crossed the short distance to the kitchen table and laid the gun on top. He wore his usual outfit –

black on black – his feet were bare, but his shirt was buttoned. For reasons beyond my understanding, I was more turned on by his pale, long feet than I'd ever been by his smooth, muscled chest.

I was dizzy from the adrenaline; fear-induced sweat chilled my skin. I needed to sit down, so I did. On the floor at his feet. Bad idea. I was reaching to run a thumb along the lilting arch before I knew what I was doing.

He fell to his knees beside me. I yanked my hand back and held it still in my lap as he put a palm to my forehead. "You're sick."

/ must be if I'm thinking about how your feet would feel all tangled up with mine.

I turned my head, afraid if he kept touching me I'd beg. I wanted him, but not like this. Not when I was sweaty, smelly, not quite certain of my sanity.

"You didn't see them?" I asked again.

"Them who?"

"The wolves."

"Wolves?" He glanced out the door, which I'd left wide open. "No."

"Shit." I rubbed a hand over my face. My palm came away wet. With sweat or tears I wasn't sure, and that scared me almost as much as the wolves had.

"I heard some howls. They – " He stopped.

"What?"

"They came from the woods. I didn't think anything of it. Wolves howl all the time. I like the sound." He shrugged. "Makes me feel less alone."

I snorted. Better to be alone forever than to have company like that.

I didn't know what to think. Had the werewolves run into the woods instead of chasing me? Why? I'd never known them to give up on a sure thing. I didn't like to think what it meant if they had.

The only other explanation was that they'd never been there at all. I liked that idea even less.

"I have to go."

I got to my feet. So did he.

I knew I should stay. I needed to question him.

Who the hell are you? Why are you here?

But right now I wasn't capable of it. I had to get away from Damien. Be by myself. Get a grip.

I looked out the door. The white wolf stood at the edge of the forest, waiting for me.

I blinked and he was gone.

There was no way I could go out there.

Damien must have mistook my hesitation for something else. He came up behind me, shut the door, locked it. Then he put his hands on my shoulders. His breath brushed the bare skin of my neck, and I shivered again for an entirely different reason.

What the hell?  I thought. I couldn't go back to my room. I might as well stay here. In the past I'd tried drinking and drugs to make me forget the damned white wolf. They hadn't worked. There was one vice I'd neglected.

I bet Damien could make me forget… everything.

I turned and offered my mouth to his.

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