Hunter's Moon (Chapter 25)
"An appointment?" Jessie asked. "She's that busy?"
"You'd be surprised."
"Call her then."
Will undipped his cell phone from his belt. "No service. Again."
Jessie glanced at her phone and growled. Sometimes cell service was lost this deep in the woods.
"Why don't you two go on," I said. "I'll finish up here."
Jessie frowned. "This is my job – "
"Is it? I thought it was mine."
"You two could arm wrestle for it," Will suggested.
I'd tangled with Jessie once. In a fair fight, she could kill me. A dirty fight was another matter. But I'm sure a dirty fight – as in mud wrestling – was just what Will had in mind.
"Me, too." Jessie considered for a moment, then gave in. "Fine, Duchess, you burn the fanged and furry; we'll go back to town and set up an appointment with the voodoo priestess."
"Grand medicine spirit woman," Will said. "Eighth level."
"Jess, she's old and very well respected. You have to behave."
Jessie looked at me. "Don't I know how to behave?"
I glanced at Will. "Am I supposed to answer that?"
"No. Give us a call," he glanced at his cell, then hooked it back on his belt, "when you get to your place.
Maybe we can see Cora today."
He took Jessie's arm and tugged her back the way we'd come. Amazingly, she went without argument.
Probably figured they'd have time for a quickie – I glanced at the three wolves – maybe even a longie, before I was finished.
I dragged them into the center of the clearing, as far away from trees and bushes as I was able to get, added accelerant, then pulled out a match. I'd done this so many times, I wasn't really paying attention.
Instead, my gaze drifted to the forest, absently watching the flicker of Jessie's and Will's clothing fade away.
I struck the match, and a sudden flash between me and them made me freeze. I stared in horror at what appeared to be stealthily moving white fur. I couldn't take my eyes off the sight or figure out what it might mean.
Then the match burned down to my fingertip and the pain caused me to curse, then drop it on the ground.
I stomped the flame into oblivion and glanced back in the same direction.
The flash of white was still there.
I lifted my face to the sky. The sun shone brightly in the middle of the day, though the rays did not penetrate into the deep forest. Nevertheless, I drew my gun and ran.
I should have shouted right away, warned them, something, but I wanted to kill him. I wanted to end this before I had to see someone else I cared about die.
Time seemed to slow. They couldn't have gone far, yet I seemed to run forever without getting any closer.
The brush cleared and I saw him. Or thought I did. Poised to spring, he was still too far away for me to hit with a handgun.
"Jessie!" I shouted. "Wolf!"
A gunshot rang out. I frowned at the weapon in my hand. I hadn't fired it.
Another shot brought my head up. The gunfire was coming from the other direction, and the white wolf was gone.
I ran toward Jessie and Will, heedless of the sniper. The shots had stopped. Because they were hit? Or because the shooter was gone?
I burst through the trees, saw them on the ground, and my heart lurched. Jessie had thrown her body over Will. Her gun was drawn and aimed toward the shots, but when she heard me the barrel swung in my direction.
"Get down!" Jessie snarled.
I hit the dirt.
Will struggled to get up. Jessie shoved his head into the ground. "Don't," she warned.
We lay there for five minutes at least, ears straining for the sound of approaching footsteps – or padding paws. Nothing happened.
Eventually I motioned toward the west. Jessie nodded and I crawled into the brush as she covered me. I scouted the area all around us. Ten minutes later I returned to the clearing.
"Nothing," I said. "Not a track, not a calling card. Zip."
Jessie scowled and allowed Will to sit up. Her hands fluttered over him checking for injuries.
"Knock it off." He pushed her away. "I'm fine."
"What happened?" she asked me.
I hesitated. It was broad daylight. I couldn't have seen the white wolf.
Besides, a gun had been fired. No matter how super-duper a shape-shifter this guy was, a wolf didn't have the opposable thumbs necessary to fire a weapon. Usually didn't need to, since his teeth and claws, speed and agility, were weapons enough.
In other words, if there'd been a wolf, he would have attacked, not changed into a human and shot at them. I'd been seeing things again.
"Leigh?" Jessie pressed. "What, exactly, did you see?"
"You shouted wolf," Will pointed out. I glared at him and he held up his hands in surrender. "You said it."
"Yes," Jessie murmured, "you did. Was it Hector?"
"Look at the sky!" I shouted. "Any moon? I couldn't have seen what I thought I did."
I sat down in the trampled grass and dirt, then wiped my hands across my face. "I'm losing it again," I whispered. "I should go back to the padded room where I belong."
Jessie grabbed my upper arm. Her fingers dug into my flesh hard enough to make me wince. "You're not crazy. He's fucking with you."
"But it's daytime."
"Everything we believe about werewolves seems to be coming apart. For all we know, a power eater can shift any damn time that it wants to."
I blinked. She could be right. For some reason, the thought cheered me.
Jessie's hold gentled. "You saved our lives, Leigh."
"I doubt that."
"You yelled; we hit the ground; a bullet whizzed through the air where my head had been."
"Mine, too," Will added.
"I should have called out as soon as I saw the white flash behind you."
Jessie released me. "No harm, no foul."
"Why didn't he come after you?" Will asked. "We left you by yourself back there."
I shuddered at the thought of being alone in the woods with my nightmare. "He doesn't want me dead," I said, "just furry."
"There has to be a reason he let you go this time." Will frowned as if an idea had just occurred to him.
"He must be saving you for the blood moon."
"Gee, thanks, I hadn't thought of that yet."
"Sorry," Will muttered.
We clambered to our feet.
"Guess I'd better go back and finish what I didn't even start," I said,
"I think we'll go with you." Jessie grabbed Will's hand and tugged him into the lead.
"I'll be OK."
"Sure you will."
Cadotte glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. I gave up and followed them to the wolf pile. In truth, I didn't want to be alone in the woods, day or night, anymore.
Jessie and Will stopped so fast I plowed into them. "Shit," she muttered.
I went on tiptoe and peered over her shoulder. Pieces of the wolves I'd left behind were all over the place.
"Chalk up three more for the bad guys," Will said.
"He was trying to draw me away from them, and I let him."
"He was also trying to kill us. Those bullets meant business."
"Moves awful quick, even for a wolf," Jessie observed.
"And changes quick, too. Between the time I saw a wolf, then someone shot at you, couldn't have been more than a minute."
"Could have been two of them again."
She was right. Most likely the white wolf drew me away from the kill, then circled back. Someone, or something else, had shot at Jessie and Will.
"Let's burn what's left and get the hell out of here," I said.
"I'm with you."
Pulling the body parts back into a pile was one of the least pleasant experiences of my life. Thankfully, I had help doing it. By unspoken agreement, Will did the physical labor along with me while Jessie stood guard. We'd been surprised once. None of us planned to be surprised again.
I had just dumped more accelerant on the pyre and thrown on a match when Will exclaimed, "Oh, my God!"
I spun, gun already in my hand, but nothing was in the clearing save the three of us and what was left of the dead wolves.
Will ran across the damp, trampled grass toward Jessie. She scowled at him. "What is your problem?"
He ignored her question, grabbing her by the shoulder and yanking her around. A bright red splotch of blood marred the back of Jessie's uniform shirt. Since she hadn't touched a single wolf body part, this concerned me.
"You're hit." He turned her to face him and tried to unbutton her blouse.
"Get a grip, Slick." She smacked his hands away. "Not now."
"Let me see." He tried to undress her again.
"A scratch. Forget about it."
My heart thundered; my mouth was dry. She'd been wounded because of me. I'd worried that Will would be hurt, maybe killed, and Jessie would be unable to cope. In reality, it was the other way around.
The anguish on Will's face, the blood on Jessie's clothes… I was having a hard time thinking straight. I had to get them out of the line of fire.
"Take her to town and clean her up," I ordered.
Jessie threw me an annoyed glare. "Who put you in charge?"
"This is my town. I'm not going anywhere until we're done here."
She stepped forward until we were toe-to-toe. Since she had a good six inches on me, I had to crane my neck to meet her gaze. This made some of my authority go straight down the toilet.
"I'm done when I say I'm done."
I quivered with rage – at the one who had hurt her, at myself for getting them into this, at Jessie for being so damned stubborn.
All of a sudden the tension drained out of her and she glanced at Cadotte. "Watch the fire while I talk to Leigh."
He hesitated, then nodded and moved off. Jessie turned to me.
"I can handle this myself," I began.
She snorted. "Right. You need us. We need you. Get used to it."
"I'll call Edward. He'll come back."
All I had to do was tell him that Hector was here, he'd be on the next plane. Up until now I'd avoided that conversation. Edward had saved me once. This time I wanted to save myself. But not at the cost of Jessie and Will.
"You'll call Edward and tell him what? That I'm incompetent? That Will's a pansy?"
I frowned. "No…"
"I chose this. So did Will. We knew the risks."
Did they? I had a hard time believing that. If they knew their chances of surviving this job were forty to two, would they stay? Maybe I should tell them.
"You have each other. What do you need a dangerous job for? What if – ?"
"We die? I've asked myself that question a hundred times. I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. Will could get shot by an overeager redneck today. That's life, Leigh. At least we're trying to save the world before we go."
A crusader. Who'd have thunk it?
"It's not like we plan on dying," she continued. "I did kill the wolf god – all by myself." I lifted a brow.
"Hector is bad news." I looked around the bloody clearing. "And getting badder."
"Oooh, I'm all a-shiver."
I started to think ahead. I'd go out hunting alone. Ditch them whenever I could. Maybe I could end this without ending them.
"I'm gonna stick to you like glue," Jessie murmured.
My eyes went to hers like a magnet drawn to metal. Amusement lightened her face, but her voice was stone-cold serious.
"You're not running around like Dirty Harry. We're together now. All for one, one for all."
"Mix metaphors much?"
"If Hector gets to me first, I just might."
Jessie glanced over her shoulder at Will, who was still amusing himself with the bonfire. "Remember what you promised me and I promised you?" she whispered.
How could I forget a promise like that? I nodded.
"We're partners now."
I scowled. I'd never had one of those, and I wasn't sure what to do. Hug her? Shake her hand? Knock her out, tie her up, and keep her somewhere until the danger was over?
"I've never had a friend like you before," she admitted.
Aw, hell. Now I couldn't tie her up.