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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 23)

"Don't," I said.

I tried to get up, but Damien held on. He was taller than me and a whole lot stronger. Besides, it was hard to fight someone while buck naked and sexually languid. Though my head said run, my body said walk, or perhaps lie here and do it again.

"Let me go."

"No." He continued to rub my back. Fingers drifting along my scar, thumbs sliding against my spine. One movement relaxed me; the other made me want to jump out of my skin.

"Why are you embarrassed by this?" he murmured.

I didn't answer, couldn't speak. My eyes burned and my throat went tight. The scar would forever remind me that I had been the one to bring disaster down on everyone I loved.

It was fitting that Hector had made me as ugly outside as I was inside. What kind of woman slept with one man when she was engaged to another?

That was a rhetorical question. I can spell slut as well as the next guy.

When I got up, Damien let me go. When I went to get my clothes, he followed. I tensed, expecting him to touch me again. Instead, he kissed me – right on my scar.

I spun around and slapped him. The sound of the blow was crisp in the silence of the early morning. A red slash rose on the pale skin of his cheek.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, horrified that I'd struck him.

He ignored my apology, ignored what I'd done, what I'd said, to take me in his arms and lay his palms all over my back again.

"Do you think this makes you ugly?"

"I don't need a scar for that."

His eyebrows lifted and he tilted his head.

I pulled out of his embrace. I'd said too much. I had to get out of here before I blabbed every secret in my head.

I put on my pants, reached for my shirt, and his fingers circled my wrist. "Leigh, talk to me. I'd like to understand."

His gentle voice did me in. Tears seeped from my eyes. I had to make them stop. Big, bad werewolf hunters did not cry. Petite, blond girlie-girls did. They also got their families murdered before their eyes while powerless to do anything about it. I was no longer that girl; I was the hunter.

I tore away from his touch, threw on my shirt, and ran out of the bar, then up the stairs.

Once in my room I shut and locked the door. I was alone. I should be happy. Instead, the sadness, the loneliness, pressed at me.

I needed to see Jimmy. To remember what it had felt like to love and then lose him.

"I can't live through that again," I whispered.

I was tearing through my suitcase, tossing clothes onto the floor, desperate to find the only snapshot I'd kept of him, when the door behind me clicked open.

I spun around. Damien stood in the doorway. There was a key in the lock.

"You can't just come in here."

My brave words would have sounded better without the tears on my face and the wobble in my voice.

He removed the key, tucked it into his pocket, and closed the door.

"Talk to me," he repeated.

"I can't."

He was half-naked again – loose black pants, no shirt, no shoes. He'd get very little service here.

"You think you're ugly because of a scar. You don't know what ugly is."

Actually, I did. I'd been killing it for two years now. But I couldn't share that with him any more than I could share anything else.

"There's such ugliness in this world, Leigh. So much sadness, so much loneliness. I've seen some pretty awful things, moving around like I do. Met some truly ugly people."

He thought I was upset because I was maimed. I was, but not because of the mark, because of what it represented. Hector was coming back for me. It was only a matter of time. And if Damien was in his way, he'd end up just like Jimmy.

"This can't happen again," I blurted.

Only a foot away, he reached out and yanked me against him. Shocked, I let him.

He kissed me – mouth open, tongue searching, teeth clashing.

Lifting his head, he murmured, "You mean that?"

"Y-y-yes."

"Maybe it can't, but it will. You know it, and I know it. I can't stop touching you. You can't stop wanting me to."

I'd have accused him of being arrogant if he hadn't been right. Which only made me more panicked.

More frightened. More desperate.

"No." I shoved him away with both hands to his chest. He barely moved.

Grabbing my forearms, he dragged me onto my tiptoes. With my feet off the ground and my hands captured I could do nothing but stare at him.

"Yes," he insisted, and his eyes deepened from hazel to brown. "You want this to be just sex? Fine. It's just sex. If that's all you can give me, then that's what I'll take."

He licked a tear from my cheek. I shuddered as my body cried out for his. "Damien – "

He kissed me again. This time I straggled. He was right. I wanted him beyond all reason, and that terrified me.

The door crashed open. Suddenly Damien was gone. I stumbled and nearly fell. Then I could only watch as Will socked Damien in the jaw.

I opened my mouth to shout, "No," but Damien's fist shot out almost too fast to see. It was certainly too fast to avoid. Will's chin snapped back.

The two shook their heads like dogs who'd been doused in water, then circled each other.

I took a step forward just as Will did some fancy Oriental round kick. Damien caught Will's foot right before it connected with his nose. I blinked, impressed. Then Damien shoved and Will tumbled to the floor.

I grabbed Damien's arm. He shook me off. His face was set, his eyes wild. This was not good.

Will flipped from his back onto his feet in a lithe gym-nastic movement. He jabbed, feinted, and knocked Damien's legs out from under him.

Damien went down hard. Will advanced, lip raised in a semisnarl. What was the matter with these guys?

They were no better than animals. I jumped on Will's back.

"Stop," I panted.

Will kept going, and I cocked my arm around his throat, tightened just a little. He choked and froze, giving Damien a chance to get to his feet. He appeared extremely pissed.

Jessie chose that moment to walk in my door. "What the – ?"

She yanked me off the boyfriend by my hair – a neat trick, considering the length of it.

I'd known we'd go round and round; I just hadn't expected it to be like this. We were adults, law enforcement officials, comrades in arms. We shouldn't be screeching and scratching and fighting like girls.

But we were.

I was angry – at myself, the world, you name it. She was pretty mad, too. I guess I couldn't blame her.

She'd seen me jump on her boyfriend and try to choke him. What did I expect? A present?

What I got was a scratched cheek, a bruised wrist, and a kick in the shin. The last really hurt.

"Bitch!" I snarled, and I went for her eyes with my thumbs. Someone hauled me back.

Jessie came after me with her hands crooked into claws. Will caught her around the waist. The two of them crashed to the floor and rolled around.

I was having enough trouble of my own. An iron band was choking off my air. I glanced down and recognized Damien's arm. He was holding me off the ground. I was kicking him in the knee.

"Relax, Leigh. Calm down."

"Easy for you to say," I wheezed.

He kissed my neck, just below my ear. "Hush," he whispered, and amazingly, I wanted to.

I went limp in his arms and he set my feet back on the floor.

"Let me go," I demanded.

"I don't think so."

He kept his arm around my waist, though he loosened his grip so I could breathe. My entire back was pressed to his front, and he appeared awful glad to see me. No wonder he didn't want to let me go. In those pants of his, everyone would know how very much he liked me.

Jessie was still cursing, so Will sat on her. "Jeez, Jess, if you're gonna have a catfight, at least tear off some clothes, fall in a lake."

"Find a vat of Jell-O," Damien muttered.

Will glanced at him and smirked. "Exactly. Make it worth our while."

I frowned. The two of them had been bent on killing each other only moments before; now they were pals?

Jessie and I exchanged glances. "Men," we said at the same time, with the same disgusted inflection.

They ignored us.

"I take it you know Leigh," Will said.

"And you appear on good terms with the sheriff."

"I thought you were hurting her," Will explained.

"We were having a minor disagreement. I appreciate your taking care of her."

"Her is right here," I growled. "And she can take care of herself."

"Of course she can," Damien said easily, and released me.

I spun around with narrowed eyes. His words had sounded suspiciously patronizing. The red mark on his jaw made all the fight drain out of me. I wanted to touch him, to hold him. Behavior from days gone by when I'd been a nurturer and a caregiver. I was neither any longer, so I tucked my hands into my pockets and turned away.

Jessie tried to throw Will off her back but had no luck. "Get off me, Cadotte; you weigh a ton."

"You promise to play nice?"

"Hell, no."

"That's what I thought."

He got off her anyway.

Jessie bounced to her feet and sent me a glare. I raised my hands. "I surrender."

"Good. I don't want to give the two of them any more stiffies." She lowered her gaze to Damien's pants.

"Although he doesn't seem to need any help." Her eyes flicked to me. "What have you been up to?"

"Jess, mind your own business," Will said.

"She is my business."

"You wish."

Jessie ignored me. "Who the hell are you, Fitzgerald? Where did you come from?"

"Around."

"You're working for cash. That's illegal."

Damien held out his wrists. "Arrest me."

Jessie's lips tightened. "Maybe later."

He turned his attention to me. "You had her check me out?"

I shrugged. "Better safe than sorry."

"And what did you find?"

"Not one damn thing," Jessie interjected. "No one's that perfect. You've got secrets, Fitzgerald, and I want to know what they are."

"Get in line," he muttered.

The room went silent. Jessie glared at Damien. I glared at Jessie. Damien glared at me. Will was the only one who didn't seem upset. Anymore.

"So where did you study?" Will asked.

Damien blinked and turned to him. "Study what?"

"Self-defense."

"The school of hard knocks."

"You've never had formal training?" Will appeared shocked. "I've been doing tai chi for quite a few years.

You're as quick as anyone I've ever seen."

"Thanks."

Damien didn't elaborate. Another little secret to add to the pile. I couldn't throw stones. I wasn't going to tell him about my past, either.

"What are you two doing here?" I asked.

The last time I'd seen them they'd been fighting. Right about now they should be… making up.

"I had a call from Elwood," Jessie said.

For a minute I had no idea who she was talking about. Then I remembered Elwood was the deputy.

Jessie had given him the picture of Hector. If Elwood had called, then –

The blood drained from my face and I swayed.

"Leigh!" Damien caught me, but I shoved him away.

"I'm all right."

Jessie and Will were staring at me as if I'd sprouted two heads. "What's the matter with you?" she demanded. "We need to check out a new wolf kill. I can't have you puking in the bushes on the way."

"Wolf kill?" I said faintly.

"Yes. Elwood came across – " She broke off and glanced at Damien. "You mind?"

"Uh… no. Sure." He squeezed my shoulders. "I've got to get some sleep." He kissed my forehead and I resisted the urge to cling. "I'll see you later."

The sound of his footsteps clattering down the steps receded far too quickly. Why I suddenly associated Damien with safety I wasn't sure, but I needed to stop. The only person I could depend on was myself –

and maybe Edward.

"Elwood didn't recognize Hector?" I blurted.

"What?" Jessie had been scowling at the door. "Oh, that's why you went white. I haven't shown him the picture yet. I was going to when we reached the site."

Will sighed. "Sorry, Leigh. Jess gets focused on one thing, to the exclusion of all else. She didn't mean to scare you."

Obviously Jessie had told Will about Hector. Or at least as much as she knew.

"I can apologize for myself." Jessie glanced at me. "I wasn't thinking."

I shrugged. It wasn't her fault I was crippled by the thought of Hector Menendez anywhere near me.

"You think this guy could be the one we're looking for?" Will asked.

"I don't know."

"Who else could it be?" Jessie demanded. "Herman is Hector. He's a cannibalistic serial killer. Hector is the white wolf."

"I don't know if the white wolf I saw was Hector. I never got close enough to see this one's eyes.

Besides, I've seen white wolves before when they weren't really there." I frowned. "Just not lately."

"He's here," Jessie said.

"But – "

"No buts. He's here somewhere. We're going to find him and cut out the bastard's heart."

"She likes you," Will murmured. "I can tell." Jessie gave him a narrow-eyed glare before returning her attention to me. "You're not crazy, Leigh, not anymore." I wished I could be as certain of that as she was.

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