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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 29)

Damien Fitzgerald straightened from quadrupedal to bipedal. Completely naked, he glistened in the early-morning sunshine. I was unimpressed.

My hands shook. My heart raced. My eyes blurred. I'd done it again. Fucked a monster.

What was the matter with me?

"Leigh – " he began, and took a step in my direction.

I fired, the bullet kicking up dirt at his feet. He hesitated but only for an instant. His long bare legs ate up the distance until he was standing far too close.

Why didn't I shoot him? He was the enemy. He could be anyone. He could be the one.  My finger tightened on the trigger.

Damien grabbed the barrel and put it against his chest, exactly where his heart would be, if he had one.

"You think I care? Shoot me. You'd be doing me a favor."

I frowned, remembering the behavior of the brown werewolf the first night I'd seen him. I'd thought then that the wolf had wanted me to shoot him. Guess I'd been right.

"If you hate me, then kill me, Leigh. The only thing I've ever found worth living for is you."

I stared into his eyes and saw the love again. It terrified me. Was it real or just another lie?

All my silly dreams rose up and choked me. I'd envisioned a life with this man. Family. Children.

I gagged. He hadn't used a condom last time. What did that mean?

Suddenly I was running – through the trees, back the way I'd come. Away from him and all the confusing, heartbreaking things he made me feel. I reached my car. The thing was trashed.

I had nowhere to go, except to my room. So I did.

No messages on my phone, no E-mail to answer. I drifted around the place trying to find something to occupy my mind. But I couldn't.

All I could think about was Damien. The werewolf.

I waited for the hate and loathing that usually filled me whenever I thought of the beasts. They didn't come. Instead, I remembered touching him, holding him, kissing him. I'd loved him. Why?

Desperate, I pulled out the picture of Jimmy, then the ones of my parents, my brother, my sister. I touched then-faces with a fingertip. I said their names out loud.

"Emily, Greg, Carol, and Dan Tyler. James Renquist."

Gone because of me. Because of the monsters.

I'd sworn to kill them all. But I hadn't. Not yet.

I tugged a chair even with the door, took a seat, placed my rifle over my legs, and waited. I didn't have to wait very long.

The lock clicked; the door swung open. Damien's silhouette filled the opening. At least he'd found his clothes. Would his body have distracted me even now? I didn't want to know.

"Damn you," I said.

He stepped inside and shut the door. "Too late."

His words reminded me of the nature of werewolves. They were damned, cursed, inhabited by a demon.

So what was wrong with him?

"Who are you?" I asked. " What are you?"

"I've told you who I am. You saw what I can become."

"You lied to me."

"Not really. You knew I had secrets. Now I don't."

I snorted. "Splitting hairs, Damien."

"Making jokes, Leigh?"

"Are you Hector Menendez?"

He raised his eyebrows. "Do I look like a Hector to you?"

If he was lying, he did it very well. But then so had Hector.

"You're a shape-shifter," I accused.

"I never said I wasn't. What's your excuse?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"The DNR? Rabies? Please. You're a Jager-Sucher"

Well, so much for our secret society of monster hunters. Not that the werewolves didn't know someone was after them; they just didn't know who. By the time they saw a face, they were seconds away from being dead. Of course there were always a few that escaped – and after the debacle in Miniwa, who was to say how many of them knew more about us than we'd like?

"Everyone here knows what I am?" I asked.

"Of course not. They'd have killed you. I told them you were who you said you were. Besides, who'd believe a Jager-Sucher would sleep with the enemy?"

"Not me," I muttered. "How long have you known?"

"The first day you showed up. Jessie's one, too." He tilted his head. "I'm not sure about Cadotte. He doesn't smell like guns and death. But he's up to something."

"Why haven't you tried to kill me if you know I'm here to kill you?"

He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest. His shirt was unbuttoned again. There was a cigarette sticking out of his pocket. I guess he didn't have to worry about cancer. Lucky him.

"I figured if you were nearby," he continued, "I could keep an eye on you. Better the enemy you see than the one you don't."

Enemy? For some reason that hurt, even though it was true.

"Besides," he continued, "why would I kill someone who's doing the same thing I am?"

"Which is?"

"Killing them."

The words fell between us like a boulder through a sheet of glass. My hands tightened on the rifle in my lap. "You say that like you're different from the others."

He shrugged.

My gaze went to his ring finger. Maybe he was.

"How many did you have to kill before you became powerful enough to wear silver?"

Damien frowned. "Silver? Oh!" He lifted his hand. "This? Platinum. My mother's."

Platinum? I'd heard of it, of course, just never considered one metal could so resemble another. I never thought being jewelry-challenged would be a problem in my line of work. Wrong again.

"Give it to me," I demanded.

We'd just see what it was. At J-S headquarters. If the thing was made of silver… I didn't want to think about what that meant.

He pulled off the ring and crossed the short distance to drop it into my palm. I kept the gun ready. I still didn't trust him.

He stared at the barrel, lifted his gaze to my face. "I meant it when I said that I loved you."

"Save it," I snapped.

I couldn't think of that now. There were too many other problems to solve.

"I don't understand what you meant about becoming more powerful," he began.

"I'm asking the questions."

I motioned with the rifle for him to back up. He was too close. I could smell his skin, feel the heat from his body. It made me want to touch him, made me wonder, again, if he had bewitched me somehow.

He retreated to the door, closed it, and sat on the floor with his back against the wood.

"Why are you killing them?" I asked.

"Why are you?"

Hadn't I just said I was asking the questions? He didn't take orders very well. Big surprise. I decided to answer anyway.

"I'm killing them because they're evil. Possessed. Murdering, demonic, soulless entities."

"Ditto."

I blinked. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"I agree. That's why I'm killing them."

"But… so are you."

"I was. Now I'm different. You were right."

I kept the gun pointed at his chest. But he didn't move from his position in front of the door.

"Start talking," I muttered.

"I was in the war – "

"What war?"

" The war. World War Two. What other war is there?"

Damien had been in World War Two? I looked him up and down. I'd been told that werewolves lived forever appearing exactly the same age they had been when they were bitten. Of course I never had much of a chance to chat with them and discover if what I'd heard was true.

"There've been quite a few wars since then," I pointed out.

"None like that one."

He was right. Since the last war to end all wars, combat had changed. No more whole-scale invasions onto beaches. We had fighter jets, aircraft carriers, smart bombs. The face of modern warfare.

Americans didn't see their enemy up close and personal anymore. Except for me.

I motioned with the gun. "Get on with it."

"I was a part of the D-day invasion. Seen any film of that?"

"Saving Private Ryan."

He made a face. "From what I heard, the movie was close, but the reality was much, much worse."

"You didn't see it?"

"I couldn't."

Damien was a werewolf, had done unimaginable things, but he couldn't bear to see a movie reenacting a battle. I wondered if the sadness in his eyes reflected more than werewolf guilt.

"I made it past Omaha Beach and started through the French countryside. We were in a race to Berlin.

Americans on one side, Russians on the other."

"I know the drill."

"Right. Anyway, there were Germans all over the place. Snipers. Panzers. Damn circus. More so than I realized. We had just moved into Germany when they attacked."

He shifted, looping his arms around his knees and hunching his shoulders. Staring at his hands, he continued. "Hundreds of werewolves came out of the trees and swept over us like… like – "

"A werewolf army," I whispered.

I'd heard the story of Hitler's monster legion, but I'd never met anyone who'd seen it.

"We didn't have silver bullets. No matter how many times we shot them, they kept coming. They killed everything in their path. It was a slaughter."

"And you? How did you manage to survive?"

His light eyes flicked to mine, then away. "I was young. Foolish. I wanted to live. I didn't realize what that meant."

Damien took a deep breath as if bracing himself. "When I saw what was happening, I ran and hid. The guns didn't work. Our tanks were too far behind to help. I'm not sure if they could. No silver ammo in them, either." He emitted a short bark of laughter. "One of the werewolves found me. I… I… begged for my life."

He refused to look at me. I waited for him to continue. What could I say?

"I'd seen so many of my friends die. On the beach, the march, in that forest. I was twenty-three, and I didn't want to die. So I begged. A mistake I've paid for over and over again."

"What happened?"

"The wolf wasn't hungry anymore. He granted my wish and made me like him."

Silence settled over the room as Damien remembered what that meant and I considered it, too. If he had been a werewolf since 1944, how many had he killed? The possibilities boggled the mind.

"I became possessed. The bloodlust is like nothing you can imagine, especially when you first become.

You're out of control. Being in Germany, during that time, I had no problem feeding the hunger. With my entire company wiped out, and pretty much strewn in pieces all over the countryside, disappearing wasn't a big deal. I was listed as killed in action. I never saw my family again." He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "How could I when I was like this?"

Sympathy sparked in my chest and I squashed it ruthlessly. "I'm not hearing anything that makes you different from all the other murdering scum I've put a silver bullet into over the years."

"I'm not. I killed – first in Germany, then all over Europe and Russia. Back then it was easy. So many people, nobody noticed. It wasn't that much different from when I'd been a soldier. Except now the enemy was any human. It didn't matter what uniform they wore or which flag they waved."

"At first I liked being a werewolf. I'd been afraid for so long. I was a kid when I went into the army. I'd worked on the docks in New York." He glanced down at his hands – calloused, scraped, rough. "It was hard work, but the war was worse. I was terrified of dying, but I had to go. Back then we had little choice. The world was being decimated. We had to save it or kiss everything and everyone we'd ever loved good-bye. I did anyway."

"Wah, wah, wan," I sniped.

His lips lifted into his usual ghost of a smile. "When you're bitten, you change. And I don't mean just the transformation. The virus – or whatever it is that does this – makes you selfish. All you care about is your next meal, how to survive, how to thrive. Me, me, me pounds in your head like an anthem. That's the demon, Leigh. Complete and total self-absorption."

"Sociopath," I muttered.

"Exactly."

I made a note to mention this to Edward. Although I doubted very many werewolves went in for psychiatric advice on their psychosis, it couldn't hurt to check out anyone with sociopathic tendencies.

"I stayed in Europe until the last of my family was gone. I didn't want to run into anyone who knew me.

How would I explain being alive?"

"Wouldn't your mother have loved you no matter what?"

"Of course. But I no longer cared about my mother, about love, family, or anything that's truly important; I only cared about me."

I frowned. This didn't sound like the Damien I'd come to know and lo – I mean hate.

"When everyone who'd known me then was dead, I came back to America. I missed the place. As much as I could miss or care for anything. Besides, Europe was getting dangerous. All the monsters that had been released by the Nazis – "

I jolted. "You know about that?"

"Of course. We have our fairy tales, our legends, our history, too. The beings Mengele had fashioned in his lab were causing problems. You see, Europeans believe in things Americans don't."

"Like what?"

"People who've lived next to the Black Forest for centuries have watched some unbelievable creatures come out of those trees. They buy silver ammo as easily as we buy a cheeseburger. But in America, a country that's only a few hundred years old, the citizens are modern. They only believe what they see, hear, and touch. Do they sell silver bullets at Wal-Mart yet?"

I saw his point.

"I came back in 1968 to a world gone crazy. People hitchhiking all over the place. Free love. Drugs everywhere. It was the perfect time for monsters. With all the drifting around the country, folks disappeared without a trace."

"And now?" I asked.

"Now it's tougher. But people still disappear. You know that as well as I do."

He was right. Despite the computers, the technology, the numbers and requirements necessary for daily living, people still disappeared. Both Damien and I knew why.

"You haven't told me one damn thing that makes me want to put a slug of silver between your eyes any less."

"I don't kill people any more. I kill werewolves."

I wasn't sure I believed him, but I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. "Why?"

"Because something happened that made me understand what I was doing. Made me agonize over every life I'd taken. Made me remember all the pain I'd caused. The faces of the ones I've killed haunt me, and the only way to make them fade for even an instant is to end the existence of others like me."

"I've never heard of a werewolf with a conscience before."

"Never been one that I know of. I'm cursed – or blessed." His lips twitched. "Depending on how you look at it."

I wasn't sure how to look at it, because I found all of this pretty hard to believe.

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