Hunter's Moon (Chapter 8)
Noon. I'd overslept.
I dragged myself out of bed, across the floor, glanced out the window, and flicked the lock. Jessie barreled inside.
"I woke you," she said.
"What was your first clue?"
"I don't know, your lovely naked ass?"
I glanced down. Oops. Must have stripped completely instead of leaving on my underwear as I usually did in a strange new place.
Since I didn't have a home of my own, all places were strange, and since I traveled with the wolves, most places were new. Naked sleeping didn't happen very often. About as often as I had sex. Let's see, that would be once in every millennium.
I wasn't frigid – much. I just had a little problem with intimacy, among other things. Maybe because the last time I'd had sex it had led to murder.
Another bright and cheery thought to greet the day. No wonder I hated mornings.
I headed for the coffeepot without stopping for clothes. I could care less who saw me naked. If they didn't like the view they could get the hell out of my way.
Considering my notions on sex and men, I suppose my ease with nudity was contradictory. However, if you didn't think of your body as a sexual object, what was the big deal with everyone seeing it?
"You plan on getting dressed anytime soon?" Jessie asked, staring pointedly out the window.
I smirked. At last I'd rattled her cage. "You shy?"
"I can see you're not."
Once I had been. Once I'd been a lot of things. I was none of them any longer.
I cursed as I opened and shut all the cabinets and the tiny refrigerator. "No coffee. Someone must die."
"When Mandenauer said you weren't a morning person, I figured you'd be OK after noon."
"You figured wrong."
"Why didn't you go shopping last night? Get supplies?"
I froze. Last night came back to me in a rush. I'd planned to sleep a few hours, then go back out and burn the evidence. Instead I'd slept for too long and left the dead wolves in the forest.
I was slipping.
I found my underwear tangled in the sheets, stuffed my legs into my discarded jeans, and picked up the same T-shirt I'd worn yesterday. I rarely bothered with a bra. Didn't need one. Never had.
I glanced at Jessie.
"Maybe you want to put on some clean clothes?"
"What's wrong with th – " I looked down, and the words died on my tongue.
My pants sported streaks that could be rust paint but we both knew weren't. My once-white T-shirt was full of soot, dirt, and more red streaks. I was lucky no one had seen me coming out of the woods last night. They might have thought I was burying a body.
"You don't listen very well, do you?"
I shrugged and yanked off the shirt, replacing it with one from my bag. I left the jeans alone. I'd change them after we got back. They were only going to get dirtier anyway.
"How many did you kill?"
"Nine," I lied, not wanting to mention the brown wolf, which I hadn't killed. I was supposed to be training Jessie, not teaching her bad habits.
Her eyes widened. "Nine? You're kidding."
"Unlike you, I'm not much of a yuckster." I stuffed my gun in my pants, adjusted the shirt over top of it, and headed for the door. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"To burn a few bodies."
"You didn't burn them?"
I winced. "Could you be a little louder? I don't think people in Toronto heard you."
"Mandenauer said we should always burn them immediately."
"Well, Mandenauer doesn't know every damn thing."
"Could have fooled me."
"I'm sure I can."
I opened the door and ran straight into the hard wall of Damien Fitzgerald's chest.
"Umph," I said, and would have fallen on my ass if he hadn't caught me by the forearms.
"Hey. Sorry. You all right?"
His hands were rough, hard, as if he'd done a lot of manual labor recently – hacked up his fingers, worked calluses into his palms. You didn't get hands like that pouring drinks. You didn't get them from lifting weights, either.
Why I found his scarred hands so fascinating – hell, I'll admit it: I found them downright stimulating – I had no idea. It was all I could do not to lose myself in a fantasy of him running those hands over every inch of my naked skin.
He was dressed in black again. Loose cotton trousers, what appeared to be black Nikes – I didn't know they made those – and another long-sleeved black shirt. This one had a pattern embedded in the material, the only way I could tell it wasn't the same one he'd worn yesterday. Except he'd managed to button it. I kind of missed the smooth white flash of his skin against the silk.
"Who the hell are you, mister?"
His green-brown eyes flicked to Jessie. He let me go as if I had lice.
"Sheriff." He nodded.
"Do I know you?"
"This is Damien Fitzgerald," I said. "He bartends downstairs."
"Really?" she drawled. "And what else does he do?"
I remembered that I'd told her about him and that she'd thought he was a fanged and furry charter member. I turned just as she reached for her gun.
"No!" I said, too loudly. "I mean…"
I grabbed Damien's wrist. He started at the contact and tried to pull away, but I held on. "What a gorgeous ring. See his pretty silver ring, Jessie?"
She frowned, and her hand fell away from her service revolver. She crossed the room and peered at Damien's hand. "Hmm," she muttered.
Damien tugged again, and when I released him he shoved his fingers into his back pocket as if to keep us from looking at his jewelry any closer.
What did he have to hide? And why was I so suspicious of everyone?
Because I had good reason to be.
"I brought you some coffee." He plucked a to-go cup from the porch railing.
I managed to refrain from declaring my everlasting love. The steam rising from the Styrofoam container smelled almost as good as he did. I wondered what kind of soap he used – something that smelled both green and blue, a little bit of moss with a crust of ice on top.
"Didn't think I'd get shot for it, though." Damien's gaze returned to Jessie.
"Don't mind her. She's jumpy."
"I never would have guessed. Something going on in Crow Valley I should know about, Sheriff?"
"Nope." Jessie continued to watch him as if she expected Damien to shape-shift at any moment, regardless of the ring and the sun blazing down on his tousled head.
"Thanks for the coffee," I said.
"Anytime. There's usually a pot on downstairs. Help yourself."
"Let's go, Leigh."
Jessie was impatient. I couldn't blame her. I was getting a little nervous myself at the thought of all those dead wolves in the forest. They were miles from here, pretty deep in, but that didn't mean someone couldn't stumble across them. I didn't have time for the explanations that would require.
"Where are you guys going?"
"What's it to you?" Jessie demanded.
Man, I was a social savant compared to her.
"We've got work to do," I said as I brushed past him.
"Was there something else you wanted, Fitzgerald?" Jessie joined us on the landing.
"I – " He glanced at me. "I wanted to make sure you were getting along all right."
I got the impression he'd been about to say something else, though what I had no idea. But Jessie, with what I was coining to see as her usual bull in the china shop manner, hurried on.
"She's fine. Just very late. OK?"
She ran down the steps, then stood at the bottom, foot impatiently tapping.
I glanced at Damien and rolled my eyes. "Gotta go."
His lips twitched – almost a smile but not quite. "Be careful out there."
A warning or a joke? Why would I need to be careful in the woods, in the daytime, with the sheriff and our guns? Did Damien know something I didn't?
I was reaching for my rifle when he touched my elbow. I started. And I'd said Jessie was jumpy.
As I lifted my gaze to his, something passed between us, something that tugged low and deep. I liked the heat of his palm against my skin, the rasp of his rough fingers, the tickle of his breath across the stubble that was my hair.
I couldn't remember the last time I'd wanted to press my body against someone, slip my hands beneath his shirt, press my mouth to the pulse in his throat, and suckle.
I jerked back, rubbed at the place where my skin was still warm from his. Damien's smile was sad.
"Bye," he murmured.
I joined Jessie and we headed for the woods. I could feel Damien watching us, and though I tried not to look back, I couldn't help myself.
He stood at the top of the steps in front of my door. I hadn't locked it. Not that it would do any good against him. He had a key. I made a quick mental tally of what I'd left inside.
Shotgun. Nothing unusual there, except for the silver shells. Since I possessed specially made J-S ammo, they appeared normal, just like my rifle.
My bag contained only clothes, a few uniforms, jeans, et cetera. I rarely wore the DNR uniform. It only raised more questions. Especially if I ran into a real DNR guy. Though Edward usually made sure any area where we were working undercover was cleared of such pesky troubles as the truth.
I carried ID in my pocket, which would only prove what I'd already lied about. My computer was the best government money could buy and unhackable, as far as I knew.
Nope, nothing incriminating in my room. That I worried about such things, that I suspected Damien of searching my space, only proved how far gone I was in my paranoia. Sadly, paranoia was what had kept me alive so far.
"There's something weird about him," Jessie said.
"There's something weird about you, but I'm too nice to mention it."
"Har-har. And you say you aren't a yuckster."
I almost smiled but caught myself. I was beginning to like bantering with her, and that wasn't a good idea.
She was new, naive, untrained. She would probably be wolf bait by next month. It had happened a hundred times before.
I wondered if Edward had told Jessie the statistics on agent survival. About twenty to one, where twenty wasn't the amount who lived.
"What do you see in him anyway?" she asked.
"Fitzgerald. He's too stringy, too short, too pale. And what's with that ring?"
"What do you mean?"
"Silver filigree? Could he be more gay?"
"This from a woman whose boyfriend wears an earring."
"I like that earring. I was not a happy camper when one of the bad guys tore it out in Miniwa."
I winced. I'd stopped wearing earrings when I'd chopped off my hair for just that reason.
"When Will's ear healed, he got it repierced, and I haven't been sorry. That earring feels pretty good when it's trailing over my – "
"Too much information!" I shouted, and clapped my hands over my ears.
She laughed. "OK. Never mind. Fitzgerald isn't bad. For an Irishman."
"What have you got against Irishmen?"
"Nothing. Except my father was one." Her laughter faded.
Huh, Sheriff Laugh-a-Minute had an Achilles' heel and his name was McQuade. Well, none of my business. I certainly didn't want to hear all her troubles and hold her hand while she cried.
"I'll run him through the system," she said.
She blinked, then glanced at me as if I'd said something interesting. Then she shook her head. "No.
"He didn't do anything."
"Doesn't mean he won't. Or that he hasn't."
"Isn't checking someone out just because you feel like it called harassment?"
"I call it fun."
We continued to tramp through the woods for several more minutes before Jessie growled, "Where the hell were you when you shot these things? Arabia?"
"Almost there," I said.
But I'd been running last night, faster and farther than I thought, because it took us another half an hour to find the wolves.
Or what was left of them.