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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 24)

Though Jessie's belief in me helped, I still had doubts about my sanity. Maybe I always would. But until I was sitting in the corner talking to myself again, I had a job to do.

"Where are these dead wolves?" I asked.

"Close. You ready?"

I nodded.

I was tired. I'd been up all night. But time was growing short. Less than a week until the hunter's moon, and the tally of dead wolves was growing. There was no way to know how many the power eater had already killed and consumed. We could be fighting a losing battle. Hell, we probably were.

But I couldn't give up. I doubted Jessie could, either. Giving up wasn't in either one of us.

I followed her down the steps, Will at my heels. There was no sign of Damien anywhere. I glanced toward his cabin, but the curtains were drawn.

"Sorry I kicked you," Jessie said.

"I shouldn't have scratched."

"I pulled your hair."

"The biting was uncalled-for."

"Stop," Will said. "I'm getting excited again."

Jessie and I rolled our eyes; then we laughed and she slapped me on the back. All was forgiven.

"Women," Will muttered.

The three of us headed into the woods. Cadotte lagged behind.

"Don't worry about him," Jessie said. "He's in the zone. Trying to figure this out."

"Won't he get lost?"

"Nah. He's not that easy to get rid of."

"I heard that!" Will called.

Jessie grinned. I wanted what they had so badly, I could taste the longing at the back of my tongue – an unpleasant flavor like ashes mixed with lemon juice.

"You know what you're doing?" she asked.

"Following you."

"I meant with Fitzgerald."

"Not a clue," I admitted.

"Sex is one thing, Leigh, but…"

"But what?"

"Attachments." She shrugged. "You can't have them if you're going to be a Jager-Sucher"

I flipped her off, but I knew she was right.

"He could be anyone, Leigh. Anything."

"It's just sex," I assured her.

"Any good?"

"Oh, yeah."

"I figured. He looks like he knows what he's doing."

I glanced behind us. Will had stopped a hundred feet back and was staring up at the sky. "Cadotte doesn't seem like any slouch in that department."

Although right now he appeared to be a prime candidate for Forrest Gump of the year.

Jessie's smile became secret. "He's not. He also isn't a werewolf."

"Neither is Damien. Ring, remember?"

"Super-duper shape-shifter, remember? For all we know, silver don't mean shit anymore."

I stopped dead on the path. Jessie did the same.

"Hadn't thought of that, had you?"

I hadn't. Damn.

"Come on." Jessie tugged on my arm. I followed obediently. "I called the tavern owner again."

"And?"

"The bartender who worked there before Fitzgerald, Abel Smith, lived in the cabin. He took off one night and never came back."

"There seems to be a lot of that going around."

"I'll say. I ran Abel's name. Got nothing. Mandenauer never heard of him, either."

"What does that mean?"

"I have no idea. Abel could have left the gun – or anyone before him. Who knows? Your good pal Damien might even be lying."

She was right. We were no further along than we'd been before.

The two of us walked in silence for a minute; then Jessie cast a quick sidelong worried glance my way.

"When I fell in love with Will I wasn't sure who or what he was."

"How could you do that?"

"You've seen him. I was a goner the first time he said my name."

"What if he'd turned out to be a werewolf? Would you have killed him?"

She hesitated, then shook her head. "I'd have protected him. I'd have done whatever I had to do to find a cure."

"Cure?" I snorted. "Right. That's been going well so far."

I thought of all the years there'd been werewolves – too many to count. I thought of the genetically engineered ones, as well as the Weendigos, cursed by the great mystery. Those were just the werewolves we'd encountered. Who knew what lived out there in the night?

There were plenty of legends and beasts but no cures. Elise Hanover had devoted her life to the project, and as far as I knew she'd gotten nowhere fast.

"I loved him," Jessie said quietly. "I'd never loved anyone before."

"I have. And a werewolf killed him. I can't forget that."

"No?"

"Should I?"

"Maybe. I don't know."

"Maybe? The answer is no. Hector murdered my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, and my fiance. You know why? Because I slept with him and that made me his. I tried to break it off, but he only wanted me more."

I'd never told anyone that. I held my breath, waited for the recriminations. Instead, Jessie shrugged.

"Some guys are like that."

"He was a monster. He was going to turn me into a werewolf, too. So we could be together forever."

I shuddered as the memory slid through my mind. Hector's voice on the phone, calling me at odd hours, telling me everything he'd planned for me. I think.

"What happened?" Jessie asked. "Why didn't he bite you?"

"Edward came. Hector knew Edward would kill me if I was bitten. So he – "

I broke off. No reason for Jessie to know how Hector had marked me or why.

"He's been waiting for the perfect time to come back and finish what he started."

"I wondered why you became a Jdger-Sucher."

"And you think you know?"

"What better way to protect yourself than by becoming a hunter of the thing that's hunting you?"

I'd become a hunter for vengeance. But no matter how many of them I killed, it would never be enough. I was going to have to kill him.

The thought sent a shaft of panic through my chest so painful I found it hard to breathe.

Will caught up with us. "I was thinking – "

"Gee, that's new," Jessie drawled.

He continued to speak as if she hadn't. "Leigh, your family was killed by the white wolf on the night of the blood moon?"

Jessie had been blabby, but I couldn't fault her for it. We had to work together, as much as I'd rather work alone.

"Yes," I answered.

"Why that night, I wonder? Is there something special about it?"

I shrugged. "You're the paranormal expert."

"Not really. But I know someone who is."

"One of those elders you mentioned?"

"I talked to them. No one's ever heard of the power eater. But they knew a woman of great rank in the Midewiwin."

"English, please," Jessie instructed.

"The Grand Medicine Society. Once it was a secret religious fellowship devoted to healing through knowledge of the spirits. According to the elders, Cora Kopway has spent her life studying old texts and meeting with the spirits in her visions."

"Wouldn't being a scholar preclude being a visionary?"

Will smiled. "Not to an Ojibwe. Everything relates to everything else. Life is a circle – "

"Yeah, whatever," Jessie interrupted. "When can we see this chick?"

"We?"

"That's right. I'm not letting you out of my sight until this is over."

He frowned. Opened his mouth as if to argue, then shut it again.

"She likes you," I said. "I can tell."

A voice hailed Jessie. We turned in that direction. A heavyset elderly man waved to us through a gap in the trees. He was a big guy, but his skin was so wrinkled and his shoulders so stooped he gave the appearance of shrinking.

The three of us entered a clearing. Three dead wolves littered the earth. I could tell without getting any closer that none of them had been eaten. What was up with that?

Jessie introduced me to her deputy as being from the DNR. Elwood shook my hand with more enthusiasm than anyone else ever had. I was half-afraid he'd dislodge the hearing aids tucked into both ears.

"You know what's going on here?" he asked.

"Rabies," I answered. "New strain."

"Never seen wolves kill their own like this." He shook his head as he stared at the bodies. "Kind of sad."

It could get a whole lot sadder, but I kept my opinion to myself.

"Tell us what you know," Jessie instructed.

"I received a call from Joe Elders. His dog took off, and he found the mutt gnawing on that one." Elwood pointed to the gray and white wolf nearest to me. "Dog was up on his shots, so we're kosher there."

I nodded. If we were dealing with rabies, I'd be happy, as it was, didn't care. "What about the others?"

"When Joe looked around a bit, he found 'em nearby."

"They weren't together like this?"

"No. I pulled them over myself. Sorry. I shouldn't have done that?"

I shrugged. Hard to make a fuss about the crime scene in this case. How would I explain what the crime was?

"The first one was here. One there." He pointed to the east. "About ten feet. Other one that way." He switched his arm to the north. "About twenty feet. Almost like the wolf was waiting around to pick 'em off one at a time." He frowned. "But wolves don't do that, either. I ain't never seen such a thing."

"Thanks, Elwood," Jessie said. "We'll take it from here."

He started to move away.

"Wait." Jessie pulled the picture of Hector out of her back pocket. "You seen this guy in town?"

The old man took the photo, frowned, squinted. I held my breath. Did I want him to have seen Hector, or didn't I?

Finally he shook his head. "Can't say that I have."

"Positive?" Jessie asked.

"I'm good with faces. Fellow like that would stand out."

I let out the breath I'd been holding. Now what?

"Why don't you ask around?" Jessie said.

"Sure." Elwood put the photo into his pocket. "Whad he do?"

"Nothing. Yet."

The old man shrugged and left.

Jessie turned to me. "He's got more contacts than I do. He'll check with the owners of the cabins in the woods and on the lakes. If Hector's anywhere near here, Elwood will hear about it."

I didn't like leaving the search to someone I didn't know, but if Jessie trusted the man, I discovered that I did, too.

All three of us knelt next to the dead wolves. They'd been killed, violently. Throats torn out, bite marks on the bodies. But they hadn't been eaten.

Had the man and his pet disturbed the Weendigo before he could accomplish his mission? I had a hard time believing a being that didn't flinch at cannibalism in both human and werewolf form would mind killing an intruder and his puppy dog. So what had happened here?

"You said the brown werewolf killed another one," Will murmured. "He didn't eat him."

"Not while I was there."

"So maybe one is killing, the other is eating."

"We thought about that," I said. "But I don't recall two wolves in the power eater legend."

"If the white wolf is the most powerful, and getting stronger with every bit of power he eats, he could already be controlling the others."

"But does it work if one wolf kills and a second eats? Doesn't one have to kill, then eat, to capture the power?"

"I'll have to read my notes," Will said, "but I don't remember anything that specific. Using the locals to help him would make sense. He needs to reach a hundred."

"If he's powerful enough to control the others, if he's the ultimate werewolf, how are we going to stop him?"

Jessie asked. "What if silver doesn't work on the power eater the way it works on everyone else?"

Will scowled. "That would suck."

I had to agree.

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