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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 30)

"About a year ago," Damien continued, "I was in Arkansas."

"You get around."

"Have to. People disappearing is one thing. A whole bunch of them disappearing in the same place is another."

I shrugged, conceding the point.

"Werewolves crave human flesh. Most feed a few times a month, more often if they have a wound to heal. But there's one night we have to feed."

"The full moon."

"Yes. Strange things happen on that night. Ask any cop, ER worker, any third-shift waitress or bartender. Full moon equals a very busy night. A year ago I was in the Arkansas hills. There was a woman…" His voice faded and he stared at his feet again.

"Don't worry; I won't be jealous."

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted them back. I sounded like a scorned lover, a pathetic, needy girlie-girl. Everything I'd never wanted to be.

Sighing, he ignored my jibe. "It's just… hard to remember how I was. What I did."

I doubted I wanted to hear this, but I had to. "Go on."

Damien took a deep breath. "I'd done some work on her place. She was alone. Her husband took off.

She had four kids."

My eyes widened. He really was a pig.

"I'd planned on staying awhile. I could get several full moons' worth."

His voice flattened; his eyes went distant; his face was the mask it had been when I first met him, devoid of emotion and life.

"They lived alone. Existed hand-to-mouth. They were perfect, and they were mine."

"What happened?" I whispered.

"The full moon came, so beautiful and bright. The harvest moon. September. Warm days, cool nights, clear skies. I changed and ran, the wind in my fur, the grass beneath my feet. I ran until I was starving, and then I went back."

His voice shook on the last word. He scrubbed his fingers through his hair and his hand shook, too.

"Damien – " I began.

He ignored me. "She always sat outside once she got the kids to bed. A little 'lone time, she called it. I walked right onto the porch. She didn't even move."

He stared straight ahead as if he could see his past. "The youngest child opened the door. The mother cried out, tried to push her back, but the little girl took one look at me and – " Damien shook his head.

"She couldn't have been more than five or six, and she knew what I was going to do. She squirmed out of her mother's hold shouting, 'No, Damien,' threw her arms around my neck, and whispered, 'Take me.

Mommy needs to be a mommy for the others.'"

"Sacrifice," I murmured. "You didn't – "

"No. But I would have. I didn't give a shit about sacrifice, mother's love, anything but meat."

I flinched.

"I'd have killed them all, but for one thing. The child said my human name while I was in wolf form."

"That doesn't work – "

"Not to change a werewolf's form, but it works pretty damned well to curse him. If there's an Ozark Mountain magic woman nearby."

"What?"

"Mommy knew magic."

"Magic." I resisted the urge to snort. "Right."

His lips lifted, just a little. "We're discussing werewolves and you're rolling your eyes about magic?

There's a saying in the Ozarks – if you throw out the witch, you'd better throw out the Bible, too."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"If you can believe in supernatural evil, why can't you believe in supernatural good?"

He had a point. "So what did the Ozark magic woman do?"

"Not much. The most important thing had already been done. Sacrifice."

"But you said you didn't – "

"Just because I didn't kill that child doesn't make her sacrifice any less heroic. I could have run, but I was paralyzed, confused. A being that thrives on selfishness is confronted with total sacrifice. I might have been a wolf, but I still had my brain and it was on overload. I stood there while the mother yanked her child away from me. Her face was wet with tears as she cut her own wrist – "

"Blood, tears, sacrifice."

"The usual," he murmured, echoing words of my own that he'd never even heard. "Then she cursed, or maybe she blessed, me. I'm still not sure. She said, 'Damien, from this day on your soul is yours again.'"

"Huh?"

"When I became a werewolf, my soul was possessed by evil. I was myself but not myself. She gave me back my soul and my conscience."

"Ah."

"It's a terrible thing to remember what you've done and know how wrong it was."

I understood why his eyes were always sad. Why he never smiled and rarely laughed. Understood but didn't forgive.

"You chose to be one of them."

"I know."

"When did you start to hunt your own kind?"

"I left Arkansas for obvious reasons. Went to Florida, hid in the Everglades. I was haunted by fifty years of faces. Yet the next month, when the full moon came, I hunted. I had no choice. The hunger is a burning, painful thing. You can't think past it."

"Why didn't you shoot yourself before the next full moon?"

He lifted a brow. "I wasn't quite that desperate. Yet."

"Yet?"

"What do you think the gun behind the toilet tank was for, Leigh?"

"I thought it wasn't yours."

"I lied."

I blinked. He'd lied about the gun. But what was one more lie? What disturbed me was how well he'd lied. I'd believed him completely. As completely as I'd believed he loved me.

"Where is it now?"

"Somewhere safe. In case I need it."

"I used the bullet."

He shrugged. "I can always get more."

"But you can't touch silver."

"That doesn't mean I don't know someone who can."

The idea of a hidden gun with a single silver bullet, just in case, disturbed me, and I wasn't sure why. I still might shoot him myself. I pushed the thought aside for later analysis. I had enough on my plate already.

"So you went hunting in the Everglades – "

"Miami, actually. A lot more people. But despite the hunger, I couldn't do it. The very thought of killing and eating a person suddenly nauseated me. Then I came upon another like me and the sickness disappeared. I could kill them.  With every werewolf destroyed I'd be saving lives, and maybe I could atone a little bit for all the deaths."

I wasn't sure if I believed him. What if he was the power eater? What if he was the white wolf and the brown? What if he was Hector? What if he wasn't? I wasn't truly certain my nemesis was here – except for the weird stinging of my back. Which just might mean I was halfway to crazy again.

I decided to try a frontal assault. "You won't get away with it."

"OK. Whatever it is."

He seemed as confused as I was, but he'd seemed a lot of things and none of them were true.

"Why are you here?" I asked. "There has to be a reason you came to Crow Valley instead of any other burg on the planet."

He blinked. "You don't know?"

"What?"

"I figured that was why you were here, too."

I started to feel uneasy. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Crow Valley. You don't know why it's called that?"

"Because there are a lot of crows, though I've only seen one."

"There were a lot of crows, back when the town began. Because this place was wolf haven."

"So?"

"Now it's werewolf run."

"I don't get it."

"When this town was founded there were a lot of crows and wolves. But when werewolves move in – "

"Real wolves move out."

"And the regular folks don't notice the difference. Until it's too late."

"You're saying that Crow Valley has a higher than average population of shape-shifters."

"That's exactly what I'm saying."

Which would explain why the power eater was here.

"Tell me how you get more powerful from killing them. How can you eat your own kind?"

"Eat my – What?"

"Don't bullshit me, Damien. I'm here because there's a werewolf killing other werewolves – "

"Me."

"And eating them."

His face went blank. "Not me."

"You said you no longer crave human flesh."

"That doesn't mean I crave werewolf meat."

"Well, what do you eat?"

"Cheeseburgers."

I'd think he was kidding, but he so rarely was.

Damien glanced away as if embarrassed. "The blood-lust seems to be satisfied by killing them."

"You're saying you aren't trying to become the supreme alpha on the night of the hunter's moon."

His gaze returned to mine. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Right. There are two of you running around these woods killing other wolves."

Something flickered in his eyes.

"What?" I demanded.

"There've been a lot of disappearing lycanthropes. More than I've killed. I figured some of them were scared off, or just took off, but…"

"But what?"

"A few times when I've been hunting I could swear there was another wolf following me."

Was he lying again? I had no idea.

"I'd circle around, try to get a scent, but it would change. Appear. Disappear. Lap over other scents. I couldn't catch up to him. I never saw another wolf, except the ones I killed."

Had the power eater been trailing Damien, eating his kills, stealing their power? Or was Damien working with him and lying to me?

I didn't know what to believe. I didn't know what to do. Could I kill him – right here, right now, when he was doing nothing but talking to me? I didn't think so.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" he asked.

"No."

"Maybe I can help."

"Maybe you can kiss my ass."

"Leigh." He got to his feet and started toward me.

I aimed my rifle at his head. "Stay over there."

He stopped walking, but he didn't sit down. "We need to talk."

"About what?"

"Us."

Suddenly I was out of my chair, the barrel pressed to his throat. Stupid, really. Werewolves, in both forms, can move more quickly than the human eye. He could take the gun away from me. He had before.

He only had to want to.

I was angry, scared, hurt. I'd dreamed things about him and now those dreams were as dead as all my others.

"There isn't any us, Damien."

"I'm still the same man you slept with."

"No, you're the monster who lied to me."

A flicker of hurt passed over his face and for an instant I almost felt bad. Then I remembered something I'd chosen, for a little while, to forget.

"The last time we – " I broke off. I couldn't make myself say it.

"Made love?"

"That wasn't love."

"It was for me."

"What did you do to me?" I gave him a little shove with the barrel of the gun.

"I thought I made you come."

He was pissing me off. Shooting him didn't seem so bad anymore, but I needed some answers first.

"You didn't use a condom. Does this mean I'll have puppies? Cubs? What?"

Damien sighed. "I meant it when I said I couldn't get you pregnant. Cross-species impregnation is impossible. I'd think you hotshot Jdger-Suchers would know that."

I frowned. Yeah, why didn't we?

"You didn't give me what you have, did you?"

"Lycanthropy?"

"Or anything else disgusting?"

"The werewolf virus can only be passed through saliva while in wolf form."

I knew that.

"Any disease I might have would be healed the first time I changed. Just like any wound that wasn't inflicted with silver."

Huh, learn something new every day.

"If that's the case, then why did you use a condom in the first place?"

"Wouldn't you have wondered if I didn't?"

Maybe. If I'd been able to think beyond having him inside me.

"I was trying to pass for human," he said. "Especially with you."

"Why especially?"

"I didn't care too much about living, but I didn't want to die. I've got too many of them to kill yet."

I remembered the sentiment, from my own head. That we thought alike disturbed me. I lowered the gun from his neck. "Move back."

He did, but not far enough. Right now, Venezuela wouldn't be far enough.

I sat down. My legs didn't want to hold me upright much longer.

Werewolves have evil hearts, possessed souls. They'd kill their own mother. Lying would be kid stuff. I couldn't believe anything Damien told me.

So why did I want to?

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