Crescent Moon (Chapter 37)
Adam rushed to the enclosure, saw the lock, and turned. "The key."
I was having trouble breathing, so I sat down and put my head between my legs. After a few minutes, the black dots receded.
When I glanced up, two men, so alike in appearance and yet so different, stared back. Now that they stood together, how could I have thought they were the same? One look into their eyes and I saw the difference. The Adam in the cage was evil; the one who'd brought me here was not.
"Twins?" I asked.
They shook their heads, and their hair swirled around their shoulders.
"My great-great… well, several-greats-grandfather." The Adam outside the cage jerked a thumb toward the one inside. "Henri Ruelle."
The naked man bowed.
"The picture," I murmured.
Henri smirked. I hated that smirk.
"Obviously taken before you became a loup-garou." Considering my trouble photographing them.
"Obviously," Henri returned.
"Why would you leave it on the wall where anyone could see?"
"I only wanted you to see."
"Grandpere likes to confuse people."
He'd confused me all right.
I returned my attention to Adam. "You said your family wasn't cursed."
"No. I said, 'Some say we are.'"
"I specifically asked if you'd been cursed to run as a wolf beneath the crescent moon."
"You look so much alike." I stared at Adam. "Couldn't you at least cut your hair? Make some distinction?"
"The better to protect me, my dear," Henri said.
I glanced at him, then back at Adam. "You protect it?"
"Hey!" Henri protested.
"There will always be a loup-garou of Ruelle blood. If Grandpere dies, the next Ruelle male becomes the beast"
He nodded. "Then Luc."
So many things were starting to make sense.
"Your father and grandfather?"
"They couldn't bear knowing what they might become."
"Pussies," Henri spat.
"Who did you piss off?" I demanded.
"I didn't know she was a voodoo queen. She was – " Henri shrugged. "A slave. I wanted her; I took her."
"You raped her?"
"No." Confusion flickered over his face. "She was mine. I never understood what she was so angry about."
I rubbed between my eyes. "Why didn't she just turn him into a bug and squash him?"
"Too easy," Adam murmured.
"Dismemberment would have been too easy."
"She called on the moon goddess to make me a beast"
I lifted my head. "What?"
"Queen of heavens, mother of creatures, lady of de wild, patron goddess of de outlaw werewolf, the instant I heard your name, deesse de la lune, I knew you were here forme."
I glanced at Adam, who shrugged. "He's been obsessed with you from de beginning, but he couldn't figure out if you were here to help or hurt him."
"Diana is a huntress," Henri continued. "You rule all dark forests; you command de moon. Queen of witches, daughter of Satan."
"I think you've got the wrong Diana."
"I'm cursed by a woman who calls on a moon goddess, then you show up? How can that be a coincidence?"
"It's a hundred and fifty years later!" I shouted.
"Time means nothing to me."
I suppose after the first century, that's true.
"Listen," I said. "My name is just a name. It was my grandmother's, and you can bet your everlasting life she wasn't a moon goddess."
"Did you come here to make me stronger, to be at my side until we ruled the world?" Henri asked.
Did this guy listen! "I don't think so."
"Then you came to cure me, and you have to die."
"The one thing Grandpere fears is being cured. He likes what he is. He doesn't want to go back to the way he was."
"In life I was at de mercy of forces I could not change – weather, government, stock market, death. Now everyone is at de mercy of me. Like this, I'll never be hungry or poor again."
I looked at Adam. "I thought you were poor now."
"I want none of his money."
Couldn't say I blamed him.
"I can understand cursing Henri," I said, "but why the entire line?"
"Curses are funny that way," Adam said. "They tend to hang around for more than a generation."
"You're certain killing him will curse you?"
'I can't kill him and find out!" Adam shoved a hand through his hair. "I've spoken with voodoo experts; they all say de same thing. A curse like this is on every Ruelle born until de curse is lifted. And that I don't know how to do. No one does."
"So what, exactly, is the curse?"
"He is an evil, soulless thing. A selfish prick who cares only for himself."
"Wasn't he that already?"
'I didn't know him before," Adam shrugged, "but most likely."
"I'm right here," Henri muttered.
"Under de crescent moon he runs as a wolf," Adam continued as if Henri hadn't spoken. "He murders de innocent and creates more werewolves."
"He told me he has to change under the crescent moon."
"He does. Many more nights of being a beast that way."
"A blessing, not a curse, if you ask me," Henri said. "I like to kill."
"We didn't ask you," I snapped. God, he was annoying.
Something occurred to me. "I saw Charlie under a half-moon."
"Charlie was a werewolf; Grandpere is a loup-garou."
"My head hurts."
Adam's mourn tightened. "Grandpere wasn't bitten; he was cursed. Those he bites rise and run as wolves within twenty-four hours – day, night, doesn't matter. After that, only de full moon compels them to shift. Under any other, it is their choice."
Which made as much sense as anything else around here.
"What about him?" I jerked my thumb toward the cage. "When the moon isn't a crescent?"
"He's a man – or as much of a man as he can claim to be."
"Sounds like less of a curse."
"The longer he's in human form, de more violent he becomes when de wolf is upon him."
I scowled at Henri, who shrugged and examined his fingernails. I considered all that I knew and all I did not
"When did you find out about the curse?' I asked.
"Luc's first birthday." His face softened. "Family tradition. By then you're in love with de boy. You'd do anything to protect him."
"I couldn't find a record of Luc's birth," I said.
Adam cast Henri a suspicious glance, and Henri shrugged. "Less people know of us, de better."
"Once your father told you the truth," I continued, "he killed himself?"
Sadness flickered over Adam's face as he nodded. "I was old enough to watch over Grandpere, and by then I'd had Special Forces training. Didn't know I'd need it for this."
"Your father left you alone to raise your son, protect that thing, and find a cure? He couldn't stick around to help?"
"Knowing what was to come preyed on his mind, drove him over de edge."
I got the feeling Adam was talking as much about himself as his dad.
"When I was a boy he would be gone certain nights and come home beat to hell. He was a gentle man, a scholar. He didn't know how to fight; he had no idea how to counteract evil and violence."
Henri snorted but refrained from comment for a change.
"She left the instant she knew the truth."
I tilted my head, and Adam looked away, refusing to meet my eyes. No wonder he'd been so worried I'd leave him and Luc behind. Every other woman in his life had.
"My father asked me to enlist," he continued. "I'd always been fascinated with weapons, interested in military history; I believed he wanted me to be happy. Later I understood he wanted me trained to do de family dirty work better than he had been."
"You plan on taking the easy way out when Luc's old enough to protect that monster?"
"I'd let de curse fall to me before I'd leave him to suffer."
"You'll like it," Henri whispered. "You'll see. The power is exhilarating. With one stroke you can kill or impart life everlasting."
'Unless someone has a silver bullet," Adam snapped.
"So few do."
"Wait a minute," I said. "Doesn't everyone he kills rise again?"
"No, thank God, or we'd be overrun. If he kills but doesn't drink their blood or eat their flesh, they become a werewolf. If he partakes of de kill, they're just dead."
"I do so love when they beg for their life," Henri murmured. "I usually give it to them."
"Shut up, old man," Adam said.
The incongruity of calling someone who didn't appear a day over thirty "old man" made me giggle. Hysteria was obviously not far behind.
I swallowed the inappropriate laughter and tried to focus. "Why are there no Ruelle girls?"
"What?" Adam blinked at the sudden change in subject.
"No girls born for over a century. I checked."
"De curse. Grandpere's voodoo queen wanted only men to suffer. I don't think she cared too much for them."
"I can't imagine why."
Henri grabbed the bars and rattled his cage. "Let me out!"
"Not so fast," Adam said. "You will leave her alone."
Henri's gaze flicked to me. "What if she tries to kill me? Will you protect me then, Petit-fils? Will you trust her with your soul? What about de boy's?"
'If she meant to kill you, Grandpere, I'd be dead. She thought I was you."
Henri frowned. I didn't think he was the brightest star in the sky. Or should I say the fullest moon on the calendar?
"True," he agreed. "She'd have slipped a silver knife between your ribs while you were doing her. That's always de best time."
"You two seem to have me confused with someone else," I murmured. "A psychopathic serial killer perhaps?"
"But if she doesn't want to kill me – "
"I didn't at first, but now that I've met you I've changed my mind."
"Diana – " Adam began, but Henri interrupted: "What do you want?"
"To prove a werewolf exists and show it to the world."
"That isn't going to happen." Henri glanced at Adam. "Right?"
Adam sighed. "Right" He let his head fall forward, and his hair sifted over his face.
I stood, resisting the urge to shove it back.
He lifted his gaze. "I need de key."
"He wants to kill me, or maybe screw me – "
"How about both?" Henri whispered.
"Why you think I said I'd be your guide?" Adam demanded. "I wasn't going to let him hurt you. I still won't"
Sadness filtered through me. Adam hadn't hung around because of my charms – no kidding – but because he'd wanted to make certain Henri didn't tear out my throat or worse. And what better way to get close than to pretend he wanted to sleep with me and then do so?
I'd been right: This wasn't love. It wasn't even lust, just duty.
Voices floated on the still morning air, startling us all.
"Frank," I muttered. How had he gotten here so fast?
"Hurry up," Henri snapped.
"I have to let him go, Diana." Adam's gaze captured mine. "If they don't kill him here, they'll dissect him somewhere else. If he dies and I'm possessed, there'll be no one to care for Luc."
"You think Henri should be free to kill people?"
"I do my best to contain him. And I spend de nights he can't shift eliminating those he's made."
My eyes widened. "You shot Charlie."
There was a shout, much closer, and Adam held out his hand. "Please."
I looked into his eyes, saw the shadows and the pain. I also saw his fear, his need, and his son.
I gave him the key.