Crescent Moon (Chapter 34)

My eyes snapped open. How long had I been asleep?

I lay on my sleeping bag, alone – nothing new there. What was new was the crescent moon centered in the window, a bright silver slash against an indigo sky.

"Showtime," I muttered.

I'd rather Adam were with me, wouldn't mind having him around while I spent the rest of the night in a tree with my dart gun. But he hadn't offered and I hadn't asked.

In fact, neither one of us had said a word. He'd behaved as if he were drawn to me even though it was wrong, stupid, destructive. He'd behaved like a man who couldn't help himself, and that wasn't love.

But it was something.

I dug out some jeans and a dark T-shirt. As an afterthought I tucked both gris-gris in my pocket. Alligators I didn't need, and one never could tell when the truth might come in handy.

The dart gun was loaded, but I put some extra darts into my backpack, along with a bottle of water and some cookies. I could be out there all night. Last, I opened the cooler I'd bought in town yesterday and withdrew a long white paper-wrapped package from the ice.

The trek to the clearing was uneventful. Though it would be too much to hope for that the loup-garou was poised to step into my trap, nevertheless, I approached quietly, just in case. However, when I pushed through the tall grass, the only thing I saw was an empty cage.

Not that it was easy to see it, if I do say so myself. I'd positioned the apparatus, large enough to hold ten grown men, beneath a particularly weepy-looking cypress tree. After I rearranged the moss and the ground cover, the metal was almost impossible to distinguish by the simple light of a crescent moon.

I tossed the contents of my white paper package inside. "Fresh steak ought to entice you."

Wolves preferred live prey, but they weren't against a free meal when they could find one. Me, I couldn't stomach tying up a live creature to await a bloody death. Prime rib would have to do.

Over the past few days I'd not only readied the cage, the darts, the gun, I'd also readied a second perfect cypress nearby: tall, with acres of moss. I'd placed a portable tree stand about twenty feet off the ground.

I tied my rifle to the rope I'd strung over a branch. Using the heavy-duty nails I'd pounded into the tree, I climbed to the flat metal stand.

After allowing my gaze to wander over the area, I hoisted my gun upward by way of the rope pulley, secured the safety strap around my waist – more fatal hunting accidents occur when hunters tumble out of their trees because they fall asleep, have a heart attack, or are just plain stupid than when they are actually shot – and settled in to wait.

The sounds of the swamp surrounded me. I'd thought the place loud when I was inside the mansion? I hadn't met loud yet

Birds, insects, alligators, nutrias – out there somewhere I could have sworn I heard a pig squeal. A farm animal gone wild? Or were there wild boars in the depths? I probably shouldn't have been wandering around as much as I had been without a gun.

My gaze was caught by shifting swamp grass beneath an ebbing moon. Not the wind. Something was coming.

Slowly I raised the gun. I don't know what I expected, but when the wolf stepped from the swamp into the clearing, lifting his nose and sniffing, I had to bite my lip to keep from making a sound.

His fur shone in the sliver of moonlight, glinting black, then blue, then black again. I'd been right to gauge the dosage for an Alaskan timber wolf. This thing might even be larger than that.

The animal paid no attention to the steak. Instead he trotted around and around the open area as if he knew something was there but couldn't find it.

I wasn't surprised; I didn't even consider it magic to have the wolf from my dream materialize. I'd seen a black tail. I knew what a wolf looked like. Put one and one together and I got two, even in my sleep.

But how was I supposed to determine if this was a real wolf or a werewolf?

Mrs. Favreau's words came back to me: Though the form may be that of a wolf, a werewolf always retains its human eyes.

I squinted against the night, against the distance, as the wolf circled away from me again, but I couldn't see his eyes, let alone determine if they were human.

Suddenly he stopped, stiffened, and stared right at me. I hadn't made a movement, not a sound. What had caused him to sense I was there? Wolves did not peer into trees for their prey.

I lifted the gun to my shoulder. He didn't care. He charged across the clearing as if he planned to climb up the trunk, snarling as if he would tear me apart once he got there.

Why wasn't he afraid of the rifle? He couldn't know that I didn't have silver bullets. Right now that seemed like a big mistake.

I forced myself to remain steady. To be patient. To aim. I didn't think a wolf could clamber this high, but I wasn't taking any chances.

Right before I squeezed the trigger, I saw his eyes, and I had no qualms about shooting. I couldn't determine a color, but I did see the whites.

Real wolves didn't have any.

The dart struck him in the chest. He yelped, leaped. My heart did, too. The thing had a damn nice vertical extension. Too nice. If he hadn't been shot, he might have cleared the lowest branch of my tree, about a yard below my feet. Not that he could have done much damage hanging there, but the ability startled me. What else could he do?

The wolf fell to the earth, staggered, toppled, and went still. The silence following so much sound seemed deafening.

I needed to drag the beast into the cage, then call Frank. Lucky for me, the animal had dropped over right in front of the enclosure. I wasn't sure how far I'd be able to move deadweight that approximated my own.

Once on the ground, I wasted no time. Though I didn't want to, I leaned my weapon against the tree. I couldn't do much with one hand.

The grass was damp, so when I tugged on his rear legs, the beast slid. After much grunting and groaning, I had him in the cage.

Straightening, I allowed myself to smile. I'd done it.

Like a dog dreaming of a rabbit, the wolf's legs twitched, and my smile froze. He lay between me and the door.

"Idiot," I muttered, and leaped over his inert body, skidding on the grass and falling on my ass.

Stunned, I didn't immediately move. Until I heard a low, rumbling growl.

I rolled onto my feet in a single movement, which was pretty darned athletic if I do say so myself. Terror will do that to a woman.

I dived for the open door as the wolf slowly sat up, shaking his head as if he were coming out of deep water. The dart hadn't worked very well.

Of course it had been fashioned for a 120-pound animal. This one weighed quite a bit more than that. I guess I should count myself lucky he'd fallen over at all.

The door clanged and I turned the key, then yanked it out of the lock and backpedaled as quickly as I could. Slipping again, I fell to my knees. Could I be any more of a klutz?

I'd specifically requested a lock and key on the cage. A wolf couldn't undo a catch, but a person could. And if this animal was what I thought it was, he'd have opposable thumbs by morning, if not before.

A body slammed into the bars. Snarling and slavering commenced.

Still on my hands and knees, I looked up and my whole world shifted.

The wolf was exactly like the one in my dream. Huge and black, he also possessed the eyes of Adam Ruelle.