Hunter's Moon (Chapter 4)
He towered over Jessie, his body lithe and strong. The way he held himself screamed some kind of martial arts training. His hair was short, and a golden feather swung from one ear. He was exotic – both wild and tame. I couldn't seem to stop staring.
"You must be Leigh. Welcome."
The man held out his hand, but Jessie yanked him back. "Just one minute there, Slick; the duchess is being a pain in my ass."
"Since that's awful easy to do, Jess, I'm not going to hold it against her."
I smiled. He had her number.
"I'm Will." He offered his hand again, and I managed to shake it before Jessie could stop us. "Will Cadotte."
"Leigh Tyler," I returned.
"And you think Jessie is going to get us killed why?"
Not only was he sharp, but his hearing wasn't bad, either.
"Attachments." I shrugged. "You can't have them if you're going to be a Jdger-Sucher." I glanced at Edward. "What's the matter with you? Didn't you check her out better than this? Or is he a new development?"
I couldn't say I blamed her. Cadotte was a damn fine development. But I wasn't going to get my neck torn out or my head blown off because Jessie couldn't keep her mind off his assets.
"He is one of us, too."
I stared at Edward for a long moment. "It's finally happened."
"What is that?"
"You've gone senile. I must say, you hide it well."
He narrowed his pale blue eyes. "Watch your mouth, young lady. I know what I am doing."
That remained to be seen.
I glanced at Cadotte. "No offense, but you don't seem like much of a hunter."
"Probably because I'm not."
"He is the expert I spoke of."
I looked Cadotte up and down. "I just bet he is."
Cadotte threw his arm out, stopping Jessie before she could spring across the room and kick my ass. Or at least try. We were going to go round and round before this was over. It was only a matter of time.
"You must forgive Leigh," Edward said. "She is devoted to the job."
"Don't apologize for me. I'm the one who has to train her. I can see she's gaga over him. If he's in danger, she'll be useless."
"On the contrary, Jessie was very useful, even when Will was in grave danger. It is one of the reasons I chose her."
My eyes met Edward's. His were determined and I accepted the inevitable. Jessie was one of us now, and so was the boyfriend.
"What kind of an expert is he?"
"He's right here," Cadotte said. "I'm a professor of Native American history, with a specialty in totems."
"Which will do us any good why?"
His lips twitched. For some reason Cadotte found me more amusing than annoying, which only annoyed me more. Of course that was very easy to do. Jessie and I had more in common with each passing moment.
"I live to acquire obscure data."
"Will was invaluable during our escapade with the wolf god," Edward said.
"The wolf god is gone."
"But not forgotten," Jessie whispered.
A shadow flickered across her face. Will took her hand. I wondered what was up with that, and since I'd never been one to shut my mouth, I asked.
"You knew the wolf god well?"
"She was my best friend."
"At least I had one."
"Girls – " Mandenauer broke off as Jessie and I both snarled at him. "I mean, ladies, must you?"
"I think they must," Cadotte murmured. "It's a territorial thing."
"Why don't they just pee on the trees as we do?"
"It'd be quieter," Cadotte agreed.
I stared at Edward, then shifted my gaze to Jessie. "What did you do to him?"
Jessie frowned. "Nothing."
"He never made jokes before he met you."
"Then my work here is done." She brushed her palms together.
"Leigh, if we cannot laugh once in a while, what good is living?" Edward asked.
"I don't know; what good is it?"
Silence fell over the room. Edward glanced away. Jessie and Will stared at me with something akin to pity in their eyes. And they didn't even know me.
I threw up my hands. "Never mind. Where am I staying? Just don't say here, because you can forget it."
"As if," Jessie muttered.
"There was one room for rent in Crow Valley," Edward said.
"Only one? No cabin? No hotel?"
Jessie rolled her eyes. "You aren't in Kansas anymore, Duchess."
I winced. Kansas. Did she know? Or was that just a lucky guess?
Edward, ever sensitive to my pain, jumped in. "Crow Valley is not a resort area. No one comes to this town on vacation."
From what I'd seen so far, I understood why.
"Why do they come?"
"What's wrong with here?" Jessie demanded. "I've lived here – or near enough – for most of my life."
Her eyes narrowed. Yep, she definitely wanted to punch me. Which worked out well, because I wouldn't mind slugging her just for the hell of it.
Cadotte stepped in again. "Crow Valley was originally a mining town. That's why they call Wisconsin the Badger State."
"I thought it was because you had too many badgers."
In my opinion, one was too many. I'd met a few badgers in my travels, and they were mean little fucks.
"We do." Will's expression said he'd encountered a few himself and had about as high an opinion of them as I did. "But the nickname originated with the miners, who were called badgers because they dug in the ground."
"What kind of mines?"
"Lead mostly. Some zinc and copper."
"And there's a mine here?"
"Yes, but it closed a long time ago. The town remained. It's a beautiful area. Very peaceful."
"If you like snow eight months out of twelve, summer for one month, if you're lucky, and so many trees you can't see the sun half the time," I muttered.
"Some people do."
Cadotte was very good at smoothing the waters and imparting information without seeming to lecture, even though he was. He must have been an excellent professor. Just as I had once been an excellent teacher.
I put that thought right out of my head and focused on what he was saying.
"A lot of folks from the big cities who came north with their families for vacation have retired in Crow Valley. They don't want to live in a tourist trap."
"So this entire town is made up of old people."
Easy pickings for the werewolves.
"Not entirely. An older community needs a lot of services. Medical, restaurants, entertainment. I'd say Crow Valley is fifty-fifty between retirees and the regular Joes who wait on them."
"A very large transient population then." In my experience, waiters, bartenders, and other service people moved around a lot. I know I would. "Which makes it hard to tell if there's a new werewolf in town."
"I never said this was going to be easy," Edward murmured. "That is why I called you."
His praise warmed the cold spot in my chest that had been there since I'd met Jessie. She was too tall, too confident, too palsy with Edward, and too damned lucky to have Cadotte.
I needed to get over my jealousy. It wasn't as if I wanted her life. I knew better than to get close to anyone, and sooner or later Jessie would know better, too. I didn't want to be around when that happened. So I'd do my job and get out of Dodge.
"Point me toward my room, would you? Nighttime's a-wastin'."
Everyone exchanged glances.
"What?" I growled. I hated being treated like an outsider – even when I was.
"It's just…" Cadotte shrugged. "Since I'm not sure what's going on yet, it might be a good idea to refrain from killing them for a while."
"Sounds like a bad idea to me."
"What if killing them is what they want?"
"That makes no sense."
"Does anything make sense with werewolves?"
Good point. If I could believe in werewolves and assorted other creatures of the night, pretty much anything was possible. Even that killing them was what they wanted. Still, if I wasn't going to blast a few werewolves, what was I good for?
"You can train Jessie," Edward said, as if he'd heard my thoughts.
I scowled. She grinned.
"As soon as Will has some idea of what we're up against, the two of you can begin to hunt," Edward soothed.
There was no way I was hunting with Jessie or anyone else. There was no way I was sitting on my ass and letting werewolves wander free to do their dirty deeds and make more werewolves. But I didn't have to tell them that.
"Fine," I said. "We'll start tomorrow."
The way Edward beamed at me, I would have felt bad for deceiving him. If I were capable of such a feeling.
Everyone talked at once, offering to show me to my room – on the other side of town. But I wanted to be alone. How else was I going to sneak away?
"Just give me the address," I snapped.
"No problemo." Jessie snatched a paper from the end table, scribbled something on a corner, and tore it off.
Will flinched at the sound and sighed. "Jessie, could you check and see if that's a rare document or something important before you go tearing it into shreds?"
"Huh? Oh, sorry." She shrugged and handed me the corner anyway. Then dug into her pocket for the key.
I stifled a smile. As annoying as she was, there were times when I sympathized with her. How did she stand living with an egghead like Will Cadotte?
He pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket, settled them on his nose, then bent over the end table to read what was left of his precious paper. I got a good glimpse of his ass. Maybe this assignment wouldn't be so bad after all.
I'd never been much of an ass woman, even before I'd caught sight of Fitzgerald's chest and become bewitched by all that pale Irish skin and manly muscle. However, that didn't mean I couldn't admire beauty when it was displayed right in front of me.
I pulled my gaze from Will's jeans. My eyes collided with Jessie's. While most women would be mad to find another ogling their boyfriend's behind, she merely looked amused and shrugged as if to say, What can you do? For just an instant I liked her.
Then she opened her mouth.
"I'll be at your place at seven a.m."
"Leigh is not a morning person," Edward explained.
"Well, I have to work at night, so morning is when we'll train."
"We'll train when I say we'll train. At noon."
I narrowed my eyes. She narrowed hers. We stared each other down. I was reminded of films I'd studied of real wolves. Dominance struggles. Alpha and beta animals. Well, I was the alpha around here, and she'd damn straight better get used to it.
We might have stared at each other all night, but Cadotte grabbed Jessie and kissed her again. Edward showed me to the door. The first round hadn't gone at all the way I'd planned.
He stepped into the hallway behind me. "I must leave."
My voice sounded wan and needy. Pathetic. What was the matter with me? Thankfully Edward didn't seem to notice my sudden regression to the wimpy girlie-girl I'd once been.
"Elise requested I come to the compound as soon as I could. There is an… issue which requires my attention. You do not need me here with both you and Jessie, as well as Will, on the job."
"When can you get back?"
"I am not sure. You'll be fine. Just show Jessie everything I showed you and anything new you have learned along the way."
He put his hand on my shoulder. His fingers felt like dry twigs. Would they snap under too much pressure? For the first time I could remember, I was worried about Edward. He was very, very old, and today he seemed even older.
"Keep me informed," he said. "On the lovely Internet. What an invention."
I smiled. Edward was fascinated with the Internet. His was both a charming and a convenient obsession.
We walked out together, climbed into separate cars. I watched his until the taillights disappeared over a far hill, then drove down the main street of Crow Valley, which had been quaintly labeled Main Street, until I found a road called Good.
"They are hysterical in this town," I muttered as the carriage of my rental car scraped along the rutted, gravel-strewn surface of Good Road.
I clattered along in the night for quite a while, even began to wonder if Jessie's idea of a joke was sending me off on a path that led nowhere.
The trees made a canopy over my car, shutting out any light, making the air seem to throb against the windshield in a cool, velvet haze. I could smell the forest – the evergreen scent of pine, the musty aroma of dying leaves, and the tang of summer gone away too soon.
I had almost decided to turn back when I heard it. The faint, exotic drift of music.
I kept driving. The sky glowed dimly, as if city lights pulsed in the distance. But I knew from the map I'd studied before leaving Minneapolis that there wasn't a town of any identifiable size within a hundred miles.
So what were those lights, and who was playing music?
I nearly ran into the answer. My car rolled up one side of an impressive bump, then slid down the other. I shot into a clearing and nearly slammed through the front wall of a tavern.
"What the – ?"
Cars were parked all around the building at odd angles, as if the patrons had arrived drunk. Music spilled out the open windows – jazz – as out of place in this forest as I was.
There was no sign on the building, no neon lights announcing McGinty's or Cheers, just a bright yellow spotlight perched at every corner of the tavern, blaring into the trees as if to keep whatever lurked there at bay.
"One helluvan odd place for a bar."
But in the single day I'd been in Wisconsin, I'd noticed they did taverns up right. There had to be one on every corner of every town I'd driven through. Why should Crow Valley be any different? Although I didn't see a corner anywhere near here.
There also didn't appear to be anything resembling a room for rent. I was going to hold Jessie's head under a faucet when I got back to her place.
I glanced around for a space big enough to pull a U-turn and caught a glimmer of motion from the woods.
"Well, hell-o," I murmured as Damien Fitzgerald slid out of the trees and headed for the front door.
He'd found his shirt and his shoes since I saw him last. He appeared to have a penchant for black. What had he been doing between then and now? Only one way to find out.
I shut off the engine, climbed out of my car, and hurried across the grass toward the tavern without a name.