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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 35)

"I've got to go," I said.

I took one step toward the door and fell to my knees as the room became a forest again. Damp earth seeped through my pants legs, chilling my skin. The air was musty. I smelled moss. In the distance a wolf howled. I lifted my mouth to call out…

And ended up coughing, choking, in Damien's arms.

"I don't think you're going anywhere."

"Stop me."

"No problem."

He scooped me up again and took me into the bathroom, where he dumped me onto the toilet seat.

"I'm cleaning that wound, and I'm calling a doctor."

"Damien, it won't do any good. You and I both know that."

He hung his head. "Just let me clean it then. OK?"

"If I do, will you let me find Jessie?"

"No. But I will."

I glanced into his eyes. This was the best deal I was going to get.

I yanked the pillowcase bandage off my arm. "Knock yourself out."

His smile was the same smile I'd come to love. Sweet, sad, infinitely beautiful. I was going to miss him.

My arm was bloody and gaping, made me nauseous just to look at it. I turned away, and he dampened a cloth and began to wash away the gore.

After a few minutes Damien made an impatient sound. "This isn't going to do any good, Leigh. It just keeps bleeding."

I resisted the urge to say, Told you so.

"Bandage me up again."

"You need stitches."

"Stitch me."

"I'll make a mess, a scar."

I lifted a brow. "A scar? Oh, no. I shiver. I shudder. That would be such a shame."

He ran a hand over his face, leaving a trail of my blood across his cheek.

"Forget it," I said. "It's not going to make a difference in another day anyway."

"That's right." He straightened. "You'll heal."

I wouldn't. But once again, he didn't need to know that.

"Which reminds me, why doesn't Hector's tattoo heal?"

"He has a tattoo? Like Cowboy?"

"Obviously, since they're the same person."

"Which makes no sense."

"You'd be surprised." I didn't have the energy or the time to explain super-duper shape-shifting powers, even if I could.

"But the wolf morphing into the crow made no sense, either," he murmured.

"Getting back to the tattoo?" I reminded him as he used a towel to bind my arm.

"What? Oh. That's easy. You stay the way you were when you were made a wolf. If… Was it Hector?"

I nodded. "If he had a tattoo when he became a werewolf, he'll have one forever. Any injury after that will heal."

Damien pointed to his thigh and I remembered the thin white scar that marred his nearly perfect flesh. "I got that as a kid. It'll never go away."

This was all news to me. Why didn't we know this in the J-S society? Because we didn't stop to ask questions before we shot them, and maybe that wasn't so bright.

"But what about this?" I lifted my bandaged arm. "Happened before I became a werewolf."

"The wound that infected you with the virus will heal."

"Convenient."

"Can you imagine people walking around with their throats ripped out? It isn't pretty."

I'd wondered when I first became a Jager-Sucher how people with kill wounds could heal. There was a simple, disgusting explanation. People were food. If a werewolf ate you, you died. If he nibbled but didn't snack, you got to be one of them.

"What about diseases?" I pressed.

"They'll heal, because you still have them after you're a werewolf. At least until you shift the first time."

"But not scars?"

"Sorry, Leigh."

He thought I was worried about my back. I hadn't even considered it. Guess I got to keep the scar. Oh, boy.

"Who is Hector?" he asked.

"Cowboy."

"No, who is he to you?"

I lifted my eyes. Sympathy shone in his, caring, under-standing, love. How could he love me? Because he didn't know.

"I had sex with him," I blurted. "I saw him, wanted him, took him. Then he sacrificed everyone I loved so he could become like you."

Damien frowned. I waited for the recriminations, the disgust. Instead he murmured, "Interesting."

"Interesting? Is that all you can say?"

"I didn't know someone could become a werewolf without being bitten."

"You'd be surprised what you don't know."

The door to my apartment banged open. Jessie and Will spilled into the room, Jessie shouting my name and cursing.

I was so damn glad to see them alive, I didn't hear what they were saying. I got off the toilet and inched past Damien. As I went by, his palm slid along my good arm in a gentle, reassuring touch. My fingers clung to his for just an instant and it was good.

"I'm here," I said.

They both went silent as if I'd thrown a switch, staring at me as if I were a ghost.

"Thank God," she breathed. "I thought we were too late."

"Too late for what?"

"We talked to Cora. He has to – "

"Make me a werewolf before the full moon."

Jessie shut her mouth, tilted her head. "How did you know that?"

"He told me." I lifted my bandaged arm.

She drew her gun and pointed it at my head. I smiled. "I knew you were the best friend I ever had."

Damien barreled out of the bathroom and shoved me behind him. My hero.

"What the hell?" he asked.

"Get lost," Jessie snapped.

"I don't think I will. This is murder, Sheriff."

"It's none of your business, Fitzgerald. Get out of my way."

"Jess." Will spoke for the first time. "Maybe you should call in before you make any rash decisions."

Indecision flickered over her face.

"You can always shoot her after she grows a tail," Damien murmured.

I kicked him in the leg. He ignored me.

"You told him?" Jessie demanded.

I shrugged and didn't answer.

"Jeez, Leigh, he's a civilian."

"So was Cadotte, once upon a time."

"Got you there," Will said.

"Shut up."

Jessie's answer to everything. She still pointed her gun at Damien. I didn't like it. She had silver in that gun. I tried to slide around him, but he shoved me right back.

"Without her, he can't become the supreme alpha," Jessie argued. "Wolves mate for life."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Damien asked.

"Thought you knew it all."

"I know werewolves exist. I haven't gotten the details on what you're up against."

Will filled him in as I fought a sudden craving for raw steak.

"It seems to me," Damien murmured, "that you have Hector at a disadvantage."

"How so?" Jessie asked.

"Leigh can get close to him. He'll trust her."

Jessie and Will both turned to me. "He's right."

Jessie holstered her gun. "I guess I can always shoot you later."

"Yeah, look at the bright side." I pushed past Damien and moved farther into the room. "Hector plans to use Damien for his sacrifice."

Damien frowned, blinked, then shrugged. "Let him try."

"You need to protect him, Jessie."

"I don't need anyone to protect me," Damien protested. "I can take care of myself."

Jessie ignored him. "We could always shoot him before they kill him."

"Would you quit with the shooting?" I said. "Sacrifice is sacrifice. He doesn't necessarily need Damien.

He just wants him."

"Because?"

"He touched me."

Jessie glanced at Damien.

"She's worth it," he said.

Her gaze went shrewd, and she turned her attention to me with a lift of her brow.

I shook my head. I wasn't going to discuss my feelings for Damien. Not now. F'robably not ever.

"Hector told me you and Will wouldn't make it back from Cora's."

"We almost didn't," Will muttered.

"What happened?"

"My car is kind of like yours now."

"They attacked."

"When we were halfway between Cora's and home. Thankfully Jessie brought a lot of guns and even more ammo."

She patted her Magnum. "Pays to be prepared."

"A regular Boy Scout," I agreed.

"We left quite a few dead ones behind."

"You didn't burn them?"

"We didn't want to get out of the car. There were more waiting."

I nodded. "Did you happen to see a crow?"

Will frowned. "It settled on the kills. Started pecking. Scavenger."

"That was Hector."

Jessie and Will exchanged glances.

"You'd better tell us everything," he urged.

When I was through, Will murmured, "Not good." He spread his hands. "But hey, if this job were easy, everyone would do it."

That startled a laugh out of me.

"Mandenauer?"

My head whipped around. Jessie held the cell phone to her ear.

"You'd better get to Crow Valley. Leigh's been bitten."

She listened for an instant, then hung up.

"Dammit, Jessie, you'll only upset him. What can he do?"

"I guess we're gonna find out. Because he's on his way, and he's bringing Dr. Hanover."

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