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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 34)

"First I sent Bob and his pals, but you ran them off."

At my blank expression he elaborated. "Big gray wolf and several others?"

Ah, the ones that had attacked my car.

"Then I sent Teddy."

Which I assumed to be the caramel-shaded drooler Damien had dispatched.

"Bob and Teddy were fuckups in life. They weren't any better as wolves. If you want something done, you just have to do it yourself."

The last word descended into a growl. Hector unbuttoned his shirt, shrugged the garment off, and shucked his pants. I tried to avert my eyes, but the pentagram tattoo glistened black in the lamplight, catching, then holding my attention.

His chest was smooth, unmarred, except for that. I wondered for an instant why the tattoo didn't heal every time he changed. But then he changed, and I didn't care about anything else.

I'd seen a hundred, a thousand, men go wolf, but never one as quickly as Hector.

Only the very old or the very powerful could change like that, or so I'd heard. Take a guess which one Hector was.

He changed so fast my brain had a hard time keeping up with my eyes. One instant his nose and mouth were there; the next they were a snout. White fur sprouted from his pores; hands and feet became paws; a tail sprouted from his butt. I blinked and he was on all fours. The next instant he let out a howl that echoed off the enclosed space, making my ears ring.

His head swung in my direction and his mouth opened in a doggie pant. Too bad his teeth were all werewolf.

I pulled on the ropes, but I'd been pulling since Hector had tied me to the bed. He knew what he was doing. I wasn't going to get away.

The mattress dipped as he leaped on top. The slightly gamy scent of wild animal washed over me. His fur brushed my arm. I fought not to retch. I certainly didn't want to lie in my own puke. But then again, once he bit me, what difference did anything make?

The white wolf straddled me. Right paws on my left side, left paws on my right. He seemed to be uncertain where to bite me. His snout snuffled my legs, my arms, my crotch.

"Hey!"

He lifted his head. His tongue lolled and drool dripped onto my chest.

"Get on with it," I muttered.

He tossed his head, yipped, and nuzzled my breast. I cringed.

A growl reverberated around the room. Hector froze. So did I. Together our heads turned.

Damien stood in the entranceway. Or rather, a brown wolf did.

Hector snarled. I expected him to jump off the bed, off me, and chase Damien into the woods. Somehow I'd have to get free. Somehow Damien would have to win a fight to the death against an extremely powerful shape-shifter, How was he going to do that?

I was so preoccupied with the problem, I didn't see it coming. When Hector's teeth sank into the fleshy part of my upper arm, I shrieked.

Hell, I'd have shrieked even if I'd seen it coming. Being bit hurt!

Without so much as a backward glance, Hector leaped off the bed. Damien braced himself for the attack. I wanted to shout, No, save yourself! I'm already dead!  But my mouth was too dry to form the words, my throat too thick to make a sound.

But instead of smacking into Damien or launching himself with claws and teeth, Hector shifted into a crow and flew out the door.

For an instant I thought I was delirious. I closed my eyes, hard, opened them again. Damien sat on his haunches, nose tilted up as he searched the ceiling for Hector.

No such luck. The bird, the wolf, the man, was gone.

I'd never seen anything like it – except in a vampire movie. Bam,  he's a bat. In this case, wham,  he's a crow,

I'd only seen one crow in this town. On Jessie's win-dowsill. No wonder Hector had known everything we'd done. No wonder we'd been unable to find him or the white wolf.

This was going to be a helluva lot more difficult than I'd thought, and I'd thought it would be damn near impossible.

I glanced at my arm. Ugh, that wasn't right. A flap of skin hung free, and blood dampened the sheets. It burned like a son of a bitch.

How long did I have before I got furry? Less than twenty-four hours. I needed to find Jessie and Will, preferably before whoever or whatever Hector had sent to kill them succeeded. Then I would tell them all that I knew and bite the bullet. So to speak.

I turned my head, whistled to Damien. He trotted over.

"Can you get me out of this?" I asked.

He licked me from chin to forehead.

"You love me. I know. Thanks."

If I'd wanted a dog, I'd have bought one. Having the man I'd slept with panting with passion was one thing. Having the man I slept with drooling werewolf slobber all over me was another.

I heard his bones crackle before I saw him shift. He was faster at it than a lot of shifters I'd known, though not as fast as Hector. Of course, Damien was over fifty years a werewolf. The change had to get easier with practice.

A few minutes later he crouched next to the bed. His gaze immediately went to my arm. "Oh, Leigh, I – "

"Save it," I snapped. "Cut me loose. We have to find Jessie and Will."

I'll say this for Damien; he could take orders. He freed me, grabbed some of Hector's clothes, which were too big on him, but naked guys can't be choosers, and helped me off the bed.

He tried to treat my wound, but I shoved his hands away. "Forget it."

I yanked a pillowcase off a pillow and tied the thing around my arm. It wasn't easy with only one arm.

This time when Damien helped, I let him.

"You should have that cleaned and stitched," he said as he tightened the bandage.

"Won't matter."

Our eyes met. "No," he murmured. "It won't matter. Not to me."

I ignored the implications. Didn't have time for them right now. Or anything else.

"We have to get to a phone."

I stood and swayed. Another scene played before my eyes – earth, trees, blue sky. I smelled the dirt, heard the leaves rustle, felt the sun hot on my fur.

Fur? Ugh!

Suddenly I was back in the abandoned mine. I touched my arms, my face. Skin. Whew!

"Whoa, what was that?" I muttered.

"Flashback?"

"I've never been able to smell so well, hear so distinctly. I don't recall having fur."

"Flashback," Damien stated more firmly. "Collective consciousness. It happens once you're bitten. Gets worse and worse until you change for the first time."

Well, wasn't that just peachy!

Damien scooped me up and started for the door.

"Put me down."

"Uh-uh."

"I can walk. Pretty soon I'll be able to lope."

Why I was making jokes I had no idea. Defense mechanism, I guess. If I didn't laugh or try to, I'd cry.

Maybe shriek, scream, beat on the wall a little. I didn't have time for any one of those things.

"I know how this goes. You'll keep having flashbacks. They'll get stronger and longer."

He spoke as he walked out of Hector's hidden room, up the hill, past the bones, and toward the entrance.

"You'll get dizzy, weak, feverish, and then – "

"I'll get furry. I know."

"What you don't know is that the more you run around, the faster it happens. The smaller you are, the faster it happens. Back when I first… became," he ducked through the opening and into the night, "I liked to watch the ones I'd bitten."

I must have made a face, because he sighed, and the sound held an acre of sadness.

"Evil likes to watch what it creates and marvel. Why do you think there are more and more werewolves instead of less and less?"

I hadn't thought about why. I'd only been glad of the job security.

"When we first change we're like kids in a candy store. Not only do we kill more than an older werewolf; we make more like us, too." He stopped walking and stared into my face. "You won't be able to help yourself," he whispered.

Oh, yeah, I would. I'd help myself just fine. With a silver bullet. And if I couldn't, Jessie certainly could.

I let Damien carry me back to the tavern. Why make things worse by being stubborn? Not that I hadn't been in the past, but maybe I'd gained a little sense along the way. Maybe.

"Hector is Cowboy. Or Cowboy is Hector."

"Who's Hector?"

I hesitated. I'd never explained the power eater legend to him fully, I'd certainly never explained my personal connection to the entire fiasco. And I didn't want to. I settled for a partial version of the truth.

"Hector is the power eater we've been searching for. Obviously he can shift into just about anything or anyone. He's eating the werewolves. Gaining power to become supreme alpha. It's a long story."

"And you really shouldn't talk, Leigh."

Probably not, but I wanted to know a few things before it was too late.

"How did you find me?"

"I came to work. I could smell that you'd been there."

"Smell?"

"My nose is pretty good, even in human form. I smelled Cowboy. The two of you went into the woods.

That bothered me, so I followed. His scent changed. Like the one I'd been searching for, which makes sense now, I guess. Since I didn't know what I'd be up against, I shifted, then kept following the scent of you."

We stepped into the clearing. The moon reflected brightly off the hoods of the cars in the lot. For once the bar was silent.

"Why didn't you tell me this was their lair?" I asked.

"How was I supposed to explain that I knew what a lair was? If I'd told you that, wouldn't you have known what I was? / wanted to kill them."

"Then why didn't you just blast them like I do?"

"Besides the problem of loading silver bullets – "

"I thought you had a friend for that."

"A single silver bullet is one thing; magazine after magazine is another. Besides…" he trailed off.

"What?"

"This is going to sound foolish."

"Say it anyway."

"Well, it didn't seem fair to shoot them."

"Fuck fair," I snapped.

"I told you it would sound foolish. But I felt better meeting them on equal terms. Most of them didn't ask to become werewolves. They had no choice."

I could see his point, which disturbed me. Maybe I was changing even faster than I thought.

"Didn't you worry that one of these days one of them would be stronger than you?"

"I hoped for it. I wanted to die, until I met you."

"And then?"

"I wanted to live, at least until you found out the truth and hated me for it."

I could feel his gaze on my face. Did I hate him? No. Far from it. But I couldn't tell him that. Not now.

Not when I planned on dying myself.

He took the steps to my room with me in his arms as if I weighed no more than a kitten.

Suddenly I had a flash of rolling in the grass. The blades brushed my fur. The mosquitoes buzzed around my face. I snapped at them, caught several in my mouth. I wanted to run. Feel the miles fall away beneath my paws. Chase a rabbit or maybe something bigger. Like a little girl.

I started. Shook my head. Slapped myself right between the eyes.

"Leigh?"

We were in my apartment. Damien set me on my feet. "What did you see?"

I did not want to talk about it. I stumbled across the room, found my cell phone, and dialed Jessie's number.

There was no answer.

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