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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 39)

"You thought you could catch me?" Hector stared at Jessie and the others, then shook his head. "I received not only the strength of a hundred wolves but also their senses. I can hear better, see farther, smell for miles. I can become anything or anyone. Jager-Suchers are no longer any match for me. Soon they will be no match for us, my darling Leigh."

I guess I didn't have to ask if he'd chowed down on his werewolf quota. I really needed to kill this guy.

If I didn't, he'd decimate not only the J-S ranks but the human population as well. Armageddon, thy name is Hector.

He stared at me strangely. Though the thought of what he had planned made a cold sweat break out on my body, I needed to pretend I was just like him. If I wasn't careful, he'd bite me again, and then I'd be in serious shit. Elise was gone, and no one here would be able to call her back.

I stood, crossed my arms over my breasts, then realized I had nothing left to cover my crotch and my back was on full display. Decisions, decisions.

"I don't suppose you have a towel?" I asked.

Hector frowned. Oops, wrong question.

Werewolves no doubt could care less if they were naked in the night. Smiling, I tried to remember what it had felt like to be attracted to him. He was a very handsome package, before the fur came out.

"I'm cold," I said. "Once I change, I'll be fine."

His eyes drifted over me. He licked his lips.

That phrase about skin crawling? It's not so much a phrase as a fact.

"I've dreamed of you," he murmured. "I've spent every night reliving our one night. It was never like that for me again. No matter who I screwed, who I killed, nothing, no one, made me feel like you did."

Gee, just what every girl longs to hear.

"I will take you as the change does. I will make you scream for more. You will forget the other one. He is nothing compared to me."

Hector took off his shirt and tossed it across the space between us. Though the garment smelled like him, the very scent making me light-headed, I slipped it over my shoulders and buttoned it to my chin. Being naked and thinking straight were two mutually exclusive conditions in my world.

Hector continued to disrobe, slipping off his pants and his shoes, too. His body was amazing – long, strong, supple skin over glistening muscles. I could see why I'd been tempted.

But hadn't my mother always told me pretty is as pretty does? I should have listened more carefully.

The moon shivered at the tops of the trees. Soon it would spill over and into the clearing. Once the light touched him, he would change. Once it touched me, I wouldn't. Then what would I do?

The brush rustled as the minion werewolves carried Damien into the clearing. He was still unconscious.

That couldn't be good. I expected them to tie him up anyway. Instead, a man and a woman stood on either side as guards; the rest moved away.

"Come. It is time."

The clearing filled with people. Each one stared at us as if expecting a show. Oh, right. They were.

My heart thundered. My skin tingled. I had a hard time focusing whenever Hector touched me, because my scar would flare like I'd been stuck with a red-hot poker. I didn't want to think about what I would feel if he accomplished what he had planned.

But he couldn't. I wasn't going to turn into a werewolf when they did, and pretty soon everyone would know it.

Hector stood next to Damien and beckoned. I had no choice but to go. When I reached Hector's side, his hand slid over my hip, dipped beneath the shirt, skidded over my ass. I fought not to flinch or gag. I was supposed to be a werewolf. I needed him to believe that, to trust me, or all of us would die. We'd probably die anyway, but at least I had to try.

Hector urged me to face him. His hands were everywhere beneath the material. Palm at my belly, then cupping my breast. His arousal pressed against me. He lowered his head and his mouth took mine. I forced myself to respond, open my lips, meet his tongue. I'd done this before – eagerly. It was fit punishment I should do so again before I died.

My back was in agony. My stomach roiled. My mind was frantic, searching for a way to kill him before he killed us all.

God, help me.

Hector yanked his mouth away, though his hands stayed right where they were. He leaned his forehead against mine. He was breathing heavily – the change or just plain lust. Maybe both.

"I am sorry, querida.  You make me forget what we have come here to do."

"I thought we'd come here to do this?"

My throat tight with revulsion, my voice came out breathless and sexy, as if I wanted to do him right here on the ground. He smiled and touched my hair.

"Soon. But first…" He pointed to Damien.

Oh, hell. The sacrifice.

He turned away. I glanced at Jessie and the others. They would be no help. I stared down at Damien.

Big mistake. One look at him and I wanted to fall on the ground, cover his body with mine, protect him from whatever Hector had planned. But I couldn't.

"Here."

I turned. Hector held a gun in each hand. He offered one to me. Was he stupid?

I took it. He put the barrel of the other to my head. Nope, not stupid.

"What – ?" I began.

"The sacrifice. It is for you to make."

"Me?"

"Of course. Only by killing him can you truly put the past behind you. I made a mistake with Jimmy Renquist. You pined for him because you did not understand why he had to go. But this time you will kill your lover, and then you can forget him."

Was he insane?

Yes.

"Why the extra pistol?" I asked.

"I do not plan to leave anything to chance this time, querida.  You will be mine. We will rule them all.

Tonight. But if you have managed to thwart my plan somehow, I will kill you. I may love you, but I love me more."

Wasn't that romantic?

I stared at Hector and weighed my options. I only had one. Kill him before he killed me. Snatch the other gun and blow away some of his pals. If I was going to die, I was going to take as many of them with me as I could.

Hector's pentagram tattoo gleamed slick and black as a tiny ray of moonlight trickled through the leaves.

It reminded me of something… something important. I lost the train of thought as he urged me to my knees with the gun at my temple.

Damien's eyes opened. He saw the gun, frowned, glanced up at Hector, and blinked. "Bull's-eye," he murmured.

And I remembered what Hector's tattoo reminded me of.

"Do it," Hector urged.

I spun and fired into the center of the pentagram, ducking as I did. I surprised him so completely he dropped the gun instead of blowing my brains out.

Not a single flame erupted from the wound. Hell, that wasn't right.

The moon skimmed over the tops of the trees. Hector howled, as did every other werewolf in the clearing. They began to change. Damien did, too.

I could shoot close to a dozen, but I decided to save my bullets. There were at least thirty in the clearing.

No telling what they'd do or who would need to be shot first.

Hector remained a man. Maybe the silver bullet in his chest prevented the change. It wasn't preventing anything else – like his breathing. I aimed the pistol at his head and Hector laughed.

"You think you can kill me with the usual weapons? I am far too powerful for that. I will heal anything."

As if he'd willed it, the bullet hole slid shut. Blood still glistened on his skin, black beneath the hunter's moon. Memories assaulted me. Another place, other bodies, different blood. Dizziness threatened, but I bit my lip, focusing on the pain until my vision cleared. For the ones who had gone before, for the future I could still have, I needed to be strong.

There had to be a way to kill him. What had Will told me to do?

Shoot Hector with silver. That wasn't working very well.

No, wait. Will's exact instructions had been to shoot Hector with silver, then eat his flesh. I stared at the shiny black blood, the smooth brown skin. My stomach heaved. Strong was one thing; this was another.

I didn't think I could do it.

Hector glanced at the moon, then at me, his eyes narrowed. "The Jager-Sucher society appears a bit more advanced than I realized. Ah well, a quick nip or two near something vital and you should change yet tonight. No harm, no foul, as they say."

A chorus of howls rose into the sky. The others had finished their change. Hector reached for me. There was a snarl of warning, and Damien in wolf form knocked him away. Before he hit the ground, Hector had become a great white wolf.

The two of them rolled, end over end, struggling for dominance. Hector was bigger, stronger. It didn't take long before Damien was pinned. I had to do something. No matter how much my hands shook, my heart thundered, my back burned, I had to get close enough to kill him. I took one step in their direction and five wolves blocked my path.

I shot the closest one. The silver worked damn good on him. He burst into flames and the others retreated, prancing and whimpering.

Hector prepared to tear out Damien's throat, and I shot him behind the ear. He slumped to the ground.

Damien scampered out from beneath him.

"Heal that," I muttered.

Sadly, he began to.

There'd been no flame when I shot him, just as there'd been none the first time. As I watched, mesmerized, horrified, his head began to knit together with a slick, sucking sound.

Helplessly I glanced toward Jessie, Will, and Edward. Will nodded. Jessie tried to talk around her gag. I didn't need to hear her to understand what she was saying.

Eat his flesh. Now. Before he healed completely.

I turned, fell to my knees, retched. Where was the heap big werewolf hunter now? When the going got tough, looked like I threw up.

Suddenly Damien shoved me away. Before I could stop him, he tore a hunk from Hector's flank and swallowed.

The body burst into a fireball. I shielded my eyes, sat back on the ground. Hector's minions howled, but the sound was far away, not worth worrying about.

When the heat diminished, I lowered my arm. Hector was gone. The only thing left was a pile of ashes where his body had been.

I sat there for several moments, dazed, uncertain. My back no longer ached and burned. I wondered if the scar had disappeared along with Hector.

The clearing was empty except for me, Jessie, Will, and Edward. Damien and all the other wolves were gone.

I crawled across the space separating us, yanked the gags loose.

"What the hell was that?" Jessie demanded as I picked at the knots on her wrists. "I thought his enemy had to eat him."

I winced but kept tugging on her bonds.

"Jess," Will murmured.

"What?"

Her arms came free and she dealt with her own ankles. I moved to Edward.

"Liebchen,"  he murmured, and I lifted my eyes to his. Concern deepened the rheumy blue. "Are you all right?"

"He's dead. I'm damn near ecstatic."

"Hmm," was all he said.

I should be ecstatic. I should be dancing in the freaking streets. If there were any streets around here.

Instead I felt let down. The world wasn't suddenly brighter. Jimmy wasn't alive and neither was my family. My back didn't burn anymore, but I'd kind of gotten used to the pain. And where the hell was Damien? Was he ever coming back? What if he did?

My shoulders sagged. I was tired. All I wanted to do was go to bed and stay there for an eternity.

"Why the hell didn't you do what you were supposed to do?" Jessie was suddenly in my face.

"Squeamish?"

She shoved me. Fury erupted. Warmth drove out the cold; the need for action replaced the lethargy. I shoved her back. "How did you manage to get captured, supergirl?"

"It wasn't easy. I was too busy watching your back to watch my own. Or theirs."

"I do not need anyone watching my back," Edward grumbled. "Or at least I never used to."

Jessie and I had been circling each other, searching for a weakness, an opportunity to step in and kick a little ass. We'd both feel better. But at Edward's quietly voiced comment we straightened and turned toward him.

"Ah, hell," Will muttered. "No tearing clothes. No naked wrestling. Again?"

We ignored him.

"You're fine," Jessie and I said at the same time, then scowled at each other.

"No, I am not," Edward said. "I am old. I am no longer an asset in the field. That is why I stayed with Elise. That and…"

He broke off.

"What?" I demanded.

He shrugged. "I guess it does not matter now."

He glanced at the pile of ashes that had been Hector, then kicked them apart. Little particles flew all over the place.

"The mission is finished. We have all survived."

"I don't understand," Jessie said.

"The odds of surviving your first mission are twenty to one," he murmured. "I did not want to be here if you succumbed."

I frowned. That wasn't like Edward. How many agents had he lost? How many times had he found another one, then moved on?

He saw my expression and patted my hand. "I never considered I might come this close to losing you. I could not have endured that, Leigh. I have lost far too many people in my life whom I loved."

My eyes were hot, full. I looked away. "I'm alive."

"Thanks to wolf boy," Jessie interjected. "Where'd he go?"

"He went after the others," Will said.

My head came up and my eyes scanned the forest. I wanted to follow and help.

"Do you think… ?" Jessie let her voice trail off.

"Think what?" I asked, gaze still focused on the trees.

"He ate Hector. Does that transfer the power? Is Damien the supreme alpha now?"

I frowned and glanced at Will. "No. There's more to the ritual than that. Hector is ashes now, and so is his power."

I hoped Will was right.

"He will be fine." Edward squeezed my hand once and released me. "He is a hunter, like us."

That was probably the nicest thing he'd ever said about Damien and probably ever would.

"Why did Hector burst into flames when Damien ate him?" Jessie asked.

"Because he was my enemy, too."

Damien's voice made us all turn toward him. He was naked, dirty, bloody. Not his most attractive.

"That would work," Will murmured.

"What happened to the others?" Edward demanded.

Damien ignored everyone but me, crossing the distance between us, stopping an arm's length away. "He hurt you. He had to die."

I didn't know what to say. Damien had saved me, saved us all. He had done my job for me. I should be embarrassed. But I was just glad it was over. I wanted to move on, and I wanted to do it with him. I reached across the space between us and linked our fingers together.

"Hector's pals got away," he said. "I could have kept chasing them, but… I wanted to get back."

"How do you feel?" Jessie asked. "Supreme in any way?"

He glanced at her, then back at me. "I feel the same way I always have."

Only I knew what that meant. Damien wasn't a happy man.

"I love you," I blurted, right there before Edward and everyone.

The shadows in his eyes remained. Maybe they always would. Who was I to complain? I had my ghosts, too.

I expected him to draw me into his arms and kiss me, maybe tell me he loved me. Instead, he pulled his hand from mine and moved away.

I frowned, took a single step after him, but he shook his head. "We need to call Elise."

"That doesn't matter – "

"Yes," he interrupted. "It does. Call her."

So I did.

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