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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 27)

A sudden thought made me stiffen and push away from Damien's embrace. Anything just might be possible much sooner than I'd thought.

"You didn't use a condom," I said.

He didn't so much as blink. He didn't curse or cry or run or exhibit any of the other typically male reactions to such a statement.

"I know."

"You… know?" I sat up. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? You could have gotten me pregnant, stud boy."

"No." He sighed. "I couldn't. I mean I can't. I won't."

Now he cursed, then ran his fingers through his hair and got out of bed. "I'm sorry. This probably isn't the best time to tell you, but I can't get you pregnant."

"Why not?"

"They tell me it's medically impossible."

I wanted to ask, Who told you? When? Have you seen a specialist? What exactly is the problem?

But the way he held his shoulders, as if he expected questions and didn't want to answer them, made me hesi-tate. I didn't like to talk about the scars on my back. Maybe Damien didn't care to discuss the scars within himself. I could respect that.

"Well, there goes my white picket fence dream," I quipped.

It had been a stupid dream anyway.

Damien's eyes narrowed; his head tilted. He was too damned perceptive. Before he could question me, I blurted, "Why did you use a condom in the first place?"

"Pregnancy isn't the only concern."

Well, duh. Now I cursed.

"You don't have to worry about me," he said quickly. "I'm clean. I swear."

"Me, too," I whispered.

Silence settled between us. Clinical conversations appeared to be a great mood killer. Fancy that.

"Leigh?"

"Mmm?"

"I love you."

I could only stare at him for several ticks of the clock. "You… you can't love me. You just met me."

He smiled sadly. "I've been waiting my whole life for you."

"That's nuts."

"I know."

"You're blinded by great sex."

"No, Leigh, I'm blinded by you."

I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing at all. Damien sat down on the bed and ran a palm over the shorn ends of my hair.

"I always knew that when I met the woman for me, I'd look at her once and think, 'Here she is.' I was right."

"You know nothing about me."

"You're wrong. I know you're brave and strong, loyal."

"You make me sound like a Labrador retriever."

He ignored my mutterings. "You're sexy and sweet, caring. Beautiful, and a little bit sad. I wish you'd trust me with what makes you sigh when you think no one's listening."

Did I do that? Probably. I wished I could trust him, too. But if I told him my secrets, I'd have to kill him.

Ha-ha.

"You've got secrets of your own, Damien."

"Yeah, I do."

"Are you going to trust me with them?"

"I can't."

We were in the same boat. Figures.

I took his hand. Ran my thumb over his silver ring, remembered what Jessie had said about the power eater. How could I ask him if he was a werewolf? It wasn't like asking him if he was married, divorced, or currently single.

He didn't feel like a werewolf. I know that sounds odd. But werewolves have evil hearts. They don't start out that way, of course. They start out like you and me. When they're bitten, the virus changes them, both physically and mentally. Sure they seem like people, but inside there's a demon panting to get out.

I'd researched this, countless times during long nights when I shouldn't sleep. Demons lived –

everywhere.

How could Damien love me if his heart was full of hate? He couldn't. But I'd recognized love in his eyes.

I'd seen the expression once before. An expression I'd never thought to see again.

I wished I could tell him I loved him, too, but I couldn't. Not until my old life was dead.

He put his fingers over my lips, shook his head. "How about that shower?" he asked.

My mouth curved. I kissed his hand, then took it in my own and led him to the water.

I left Damien asleep on the bed. We'd made love in the shower. He had scratches on both his shoulders and an imprint of my teeth on his neck. I guess I couldn't sneer at Jessie and Will anymore.

I managed to make it to my apartment and change out of my dirty clothes before Will pulled up in a Jeep.

I squeezed into the backseat.

"Not taking the official Crow Valley cruiser?" I asked.

Will shook his head. "Cora wouldn't appreciate a cop car in front of her place. All the neighbors would wonder what she did this time."

This time?

I looked forward to meeting Cora Kopway more with every passing moment.

"So what were you up to while we were gone?" Jessie asked.

"Sleeping."

She glanced over her shoulder, winked. "Us, too."

I couldn't help but smile. It had been a long, long time since I'd had a girlfriend. Jessie and I would probably never have met or become close in my other life. That would have been a big loss. I liked her more than I would ever say.

"How's the shoulder?" I asked.

"I'll live."

"Sore?"

"Yeah. But at least it's not my gun hand."

Trust Jessie to worry about the important things in life.

She turned so her back was to the window, wincing a bit at the movement. "I talked to Elwood."

Uh-oh.

"He checked with all his cronies. Talked to the gas sta-tion attendants, real estate agents, anyone who might have noticed a new guy in town. No one's seen Hector."

I frowned. That was weird.

"Which doesn't mean you're crazy," Jessie hastened to assure me. "It just means he's keeping a low profile."

For the first time in a long time I didn't feel crazy. I felt… good. I kept thinking: What if?

What if I killed Hector?

What if Damien really loved me?

What if I loved him?

He couldn't give me children. Or so he said. But there were new advances in medicine every day. What if he could be cured?

Then everything I'd ever wanted could come true.

"Leigh?"

I focused on Jessie. She appeared concerned.

"You wanna stay with me here?"

"I'm sorry. Did you say something?"

She rolled her eyes. "Get your head out of the bedroom and listen. Even if the white wolf isn't Hector, we still have to find and kill it."

"I'm in complete agreement."

"And if it isn't him, we'll just keep hunting until we find the right white wolf. Wherever it is, however long we have to search."

"OK."

She faced the front, shaking her head. "And she says I'm gaga."

Her words would have made me angry once. Now I just wanted to laugh.

We reached Cora's house. The tiny log cabin set between towering evergreens made me think of Hansel and Gretel. I hoped she wasn't a witch.

The door opened before we even knocked. Cora Kop-way looked like no witch I'd ever known. As if I'd known any.

She was tall, willowy, with long, flowing black hair that held only a trace of silver. Her face possessed a beauty that defied age. She'd seen many things – some good, some bad, some in between – and all of them had marked her.

She wore a blindingly white T-shirt, tucked into a long colorful skirt. Each finger sported a ring. Silver sparkled around two of her toes. Three earrings hung from one ear, two from the other, and bracelets jangled about her slim wrists.

She didn't smile, just stared at us with solemn, dark eyes. Then she turned and disappeared into her home, leaving the door open behind her.

"I thought she was old," Jessie whispered.

"She is," Will whispered back. "My people age well, unlike yours."

Jessie kicked him in the ankle, then followed him inside.

The cabin was a museum. Indian art graced the walls, stocked the shelves and the tables. I was unfamiliar with the artists, but most of the paintings and the sculptures were of animals – bear, moose, birds, coyotes, and, of course, wolves.

On one shelf I caught a glimpse of a kachina doll, which I knew wasn't Ojibwe. I assumed Cora's collection represented all the North American tribes. I'd love to go through everything, but we didn't have the time.

Candles burned here and there. Something smoldered in a pottery bowl. The room smelled of fresh-cut grass and, at the same time, new snow on a crisp winter night. How could that be?

She motioned for us to take seats on furniture that re-fleeted the colors of the earth and the sky at sunset.

Mahogany, sand, azure, burnt orange – the room both eased and energized.

Cora sat in a straight-backed chair on the opposite side of an oak coffee table, its only adornment a smoking salmon-shaded bowl. Now that I was closer I observed a tiny flame in the center with what appeared to be grass all around it. A definite fire hazard.

She continued to peer at us with that same solemn expression. I had a feeling she could see into my head and discern my thoughts. I tried like hell to make them pure. But the more I tried, the more impure they became.

What did I expect after the way I'd spent my afternoon?

"I hear you know all about woo-woo?" Jessie blurted.

Will's sigh was long-suffering. "Jess," he admonished. "Don't speak until spoken to."

She stared down her nose at him. "You have got to be kidding me."

He narrowed his eyes. Amazingly, she sat back on the couch, crossed her arms over her chest, placed one knee over the other, and shut up.

"I'm sorry, n'okomiss. She doesn't understand."

Cora acknowledged the apology with an infinitesimal nod. Her earrings swayed and tangled in her long black hair. The room became silent again.

"You have been marked," she murmured, turning her gaze on me.

I started and my scar began to ache. It had been blissfully silent since morning.

"Marked by the demon. You are his. He has come for you."

Jessie cast me a quick, worried glance. I couldn't do anything but peer into Cora's eyes. How could she know?

"You never said she was a psychic, Slick."

"I am what I am," Cora intoned, still staring at me. "You would do well to listen."

"I'd be happy to," Jessie said, "if you told us anything fresh and new. She's marked by the demon; he's coming. We got that already."

"William, your woman needs to learn silence."

"Good luck," he muttered.

Cora reached into the pocket of her skirt, then made a flicking motion toward the bowl at the center of the table. The flame shot nearly to the ceiling.

Jessie started coughing. When she finished, she opened her mouth, but no sound came out.

"Uh-oh," Will said.

Cora just smiled.

Jessie grabbed at her own throat, shook her head, pantomimed, badly.

"Your voice will be returned when you leave my house. Until then, be still or I will make you."

Jessie froze, then sat back on the couch and took Will's hand. His fingers tightened on hers.

"What is it you wish to know?" Cora asked.

"Have you heard the Legend of the Power Eater?"

"Of course. The Weendigo that becomes so much more."

"What else?"

She shrugged. "The power eater craves power. He can never have enough. He is the ultimate shape-shifter."

"What, exactly, does that mean?" I asked.

"The more power the Weendigo eats, the greater his abilities. He can shift to any form, any time, any where."

"That is so not good," I muttered.

Will motioned me to silence. "You mean the power eater can become something other than a wolf?"

"Of course."

"In the daytime?"

"Most certainly."

Jessie, Will, and I exchanged glances. That explained how I'd seen the white wolf in the daylight. A thought occurred to me.

"Could a power eater change the color of his fur?"

Cora tilted her head and considered. "I have not heard of this, but I don't see why he could not."

In other words, our two killer wolves could really be one.

"Can you explain, n'okomiss, how the man becomes the beast?"

"He is cursed by the great mystery."

"Is there any other way?"

"Possibly."

She stood and moved – or rather flowed; her gait was too smooth to be called mere movement – to the bookcase, where she removed a huge tome. Will leaped to his feet and hurried over, taking the book from her hands and carrying it to the table.

No title graced the cover, which appeared to be real leather. When she opened to the middle, the pages crackled with age.

"If a man wished to become a Weendigo he would eat the flesh of his enemy."

I frowned. Petite blond women were Hector's enemy?

Suddenly it hit me. His mother. She had been blond; she had left him. He had never forgiven her.

"Then what?" I asked, my voice hoarse.

"Then he would call on the powers of darkness to transform him into a beast."

"How do you call the powers of darkness?"

"There are many ways, but the most common is the five-pointed star."

I sat up straighten "A pentagram?"

"Yes."

Jessie glanced at me with wide eyes.

"What about a pentagram?"

"The one who wishes to become would draw the star on his body. Somewhere vital."

As if by magic I saw Hector's chest, the black shiny pentagram stark over his heart.

"And then?" I whispered.

"Then he calls on the evil ones to make him Weendigo."

"The Evil Ones?" Will broke in. "Matchi-auwishuk?"

"Perhaps. There are many evil ones in this world and the next."

"And the evil ones," I pressed. "They would make him Weendigo? Just like that?"

"If he offered them a sacrifice."

"What kind of sacrifice?" I asked, but I already knew.

Hector had become a Weendigo by promising to kill my family.

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