Hunter's Moon (Chapter 12)
Why I decided to follow that smell I have no idea. Call it a hunch. I hear sometimes they're even right.
Retracing my steps, I strolled past the staircase that led up to my room, caught a billow of gray trailing from behind a shed halfway between the bar and the shack where Damien lived.
I followed my nose around the corner of the building. The spotlights didn't penetrate here, instead throwing their false sunshine over the roof and into the trees. Behind the shed, the air was cool, damp.
Here darkness reigned, the only light a flicker of silver that filtered through the branches and the tiny glowing circle of red at the end of Damien's cigarette.
He leaned against the shed, head thrown back, lips pursed to take a long drag. As he exhaled, his eyes closed in bliss. I took a single step of retreat, meaning to sneak away before I disturbed him.
"Don't go," he whispered.
I hesitated. I shouldn't be alone with Damien in the dark. I wanted things from him I had no business wanting. But in the end I stayed. Because I couldn't make myself go.
"I didn't know you smoked."
I inched closer, sniffed the air, savored the aroma. Once I'd partaken of nearly every vice – alcohol, tobacco, drugs. Anything to take my mind off that night, anything to bring me closer to my loved ones, closer to death. Then Edward had showed me a way to make life worth living, and I'd had to give up all the things that made me less than aware.
But I missed some of them – cigarettes in particular. I understood why people couldn't quit. The habit both calmed and exhilarated, the rhythm soothing, the nicotine stimulating.
"There are a lot of things you don't know about me," Damien said.
"Wanna share some?"
He lifted his hand to his mouth. I caught a hint of his tongue flicking at the filter, before he closed his lips around the tip. A trickle of awareness passed over me, and I rubbed at the rising goose bumps on my forearms.
Damien drew on the cigarette. I breathed along with him – in, out – the effect just wasn't the same.
"No," he said.
It took me a moment to remember what in hell I'd asked. Oh, sharing his secrets. As if I'd expected him to say yes.
I was drawn to both him and the scent of the smoke. He wore black again. I was beginning to wonder if he owned anything else.
Smooth pale skin flashed between the open buttons of his shirt as he shifted in my direction and offered me a drag. I wanted to put my mouth where his had been with a desperation that frightened me. I took another step forward before I caught myself, shook my head. "Those things will kill you."
"I can only hope."
His words jerked my gaze from the cigarette to his face, which remained as unreadable as ever. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He shrugged and took another long pull, letting the smoke trail out his nose as he spoke. "In my line of work I'm more likely to get killed in a bar fight than by cancer."
"And you'd prefer cancer?"
"Ever been stabbed? I wouldn't recommend it."
His honesty left me speechless. Despite my violent profession, I was an upper-middle-class Kansas white girl at heart. Getting stabbed in a bar fight was beyond my realm of experience. Getting bitten by a werewolf was another story.
"You could try a different line of work," I suggested.
His lips curved, but he didn't bother to answer. I had the feeling he thought me naive, and I probably was. If he could get another job, he would. So what kept an attractive, reasonably intelligent man in a dead-end occupation?
If I didn't know better, I'd think he was a werewolf. Many of them were drifters who worked at odd jobs for cash. It was easier that way. No record of where you'd been when a bunch of people turned up dead.
There was also the added problem of living long past the time that they should. Something wasn't kosher when someone who looked twenty years old possessed the same Social Security number as a person born in 1925.
Whenever I hunted a new city, I checked out the occupations where being paid in cash was a common occurrence – bartending, waitressing, construction.
Of course there were those who found a way around this problem, faking their own deaths, manufacturing data, buying false identities, or hacking into government files. When you lived forever, you had a lot of time to practice useful skills.
Damien lit a second cigarette from the butt of the first and continued to smoke with barely a hitch in the process.
"Are you on break or something?" I asked.
Well, that was enlightening.
"Do you – uh – work every night?"
"There's no other bartender?"
"There was, but she took off."
"The night you showed up. That was why I was getting dressed so late for work. Sue didn't come in. No one's seen her since."
Uh-oh. I had a feeling I knew what had happened to Sue. Namely me. No one had reported her missing and probably ever would.
"She worked nights, too?"
A pertinent question. Werewolves had to hunt. It was their nature. They couldn't go indefinitely without a kill. Like the Weendigo, they craved human flesh.
In opposition to popular myth, werewolves didn't automatically change beneath the moon. They had a choice – except on the night of the full moon. Those nights were busy for me and mine.
"We switched off," Damien continued. "Neither one of us liked to work the same shift all the time."
Interesting. Most people preferred to stick to a schedule. I know I did.
"Now what'll you do?" I asked.
"Hire someone new. Maybe Cowboy. He's in here all the time anyway."
I saw an opportunity and I took it. "Cowboy's from here?"
Damien shot me a suspicious glance. "No one's from here. Except some of the Indians."
"Not that I know of. People who are born here can't wait to get out. People who visit can't wait to move in." He shook his head. "Go figure."
"Where's Cowboy from?"
"Cleveland?" He shrugged.
I waited for him to laugh. From his expression, I'd be waiting until the next millennium.
"You don't know?"
"I don't ask. One thing you learn in my profession: Listening is OK. Questions aren't."
Too bad questions were all I had.
"What do I owe you for the groceries?"
"Come on. Let me pay you."
He shook his head. I could tell he wasn't going to accept money from me. Feeling awkward, beholden, I muttered, "It was very nice of you."
He made a derisive sound and flicked the end of his cigarette into the dirt. "I don't do nice."
Why did that sound both lewd and rude?
He ground the dying embers into dust with his black sneaker, then lifted his eyes to mine. My breath felt trapped in my chest. I wanted to run, and I wanted to stay. He both confused and fascinated me.
What was it about Damien that I found so attractive? He was nothing like Jimmy Renquist. Jimmy had been tall, broad, blond. A laughing, sunny boy who never got to be a man.
Damien was dark, slim, haunted. He rarely smiled; I couldn't imagine his laughter. The shadows in his eyes made him seem as old as some of the trees that surrounded this place.
I was drawn to those shadows, captivated by the darkness I sensed in him. It called to the darkness in me.
The air held a night chill, but I wasn't cold. Instead, my skin burned wherever his gaze touched.
"I didn't buy you groceries to be nice," he continued. "I wanted you to owe me."
"How much?" My voice was barely a whisper.
"I don't want money."
He moved toward me and I tensed, tempted again to flee. The shadows were gone from his eyes, chased away by the heat. He was no longer calm and cool but wired, his steps both hurried and determined.
I held my ground. I'd faced scarier things than him, and in truth, I hadn't been this aroused in a lifetime.
He stopped, so close I had to bend my neck to see his face. "I wanted you to owe me," he repeated. "I wanted you to give me this."
His mouth crushed mine in an openmouthed kiss. There was no giving involved. He took the kiss as he took my tongue and tasted.
I could have gotten away. Getting away was what I did. If I'd decided I didn't want this, Damien Fitzgerald would have been lying on the ground writhing in an instant. As it was, I was writhing, because I wanted so much more than a kiss.
The flavor of tobacco reminded me of a time when insanity had ruled me, as it ruled me now. My fingers slipped between the open buttons of his shirt and found their way across the silky expanse of his chest.
His muscles rippled, coming alive beneath my hands. I nipped his lip, then soothed the hurt with my tongue. Without warning he spun me around, pressed my back against the wall of the shed, and laid his body against the length of mine.
I was short – he wasn't tall; still his erection pulsed in a much higher location than I would have liked.
With a groan, he lifted me, wrapping my legs around his waist, and suddenly everything fit together just fine.
He was hard, hot; the friction of our clothes only drove me faster toward the madness. It had been so long. I was on the verge of orgasm in seconds.
His palm cupped my neck, shifted my head. He gentled the kiss even as his fingers drifted lower, across my collarbone and the slight swell of my breasts.
He slipped my tank top from my shoulder. Cool night air bathed my skin. I shuddered as my breasts tingled in reaction, the nipples tightening, even before he touched me.
The contrast of hot and cold, rough and gentle, the firm thrust of his body against mine, made me come in a sudden mind-numbing wave that left me limp, breathless, and damp – everywhere.
He lifted his head. By an odd trick of moonlight his eyes glittered silver instead of gold. His mouth was wet, swollen. I reached up to touch his face and he flinched.
Slowly I lowered my hand, wondering what his life must have been like if the slightest gesture made him wary. Even though we'd just shared something I'd shared with only two others, I still couldn't ask him why.
A door opened and shut nearby. Voices, music, laugh-ter. Someone was leaving the bar. Damien shifted, shielding me with his body, even though no one could see us at this angle, in this light.
A car door slammed. An engine. Seconds later they were gone.
Both of us were breathing heavily, harshly, the sound loud in the suddenly silent night. Damien slid my top onto my shoulder, and the movement brought me back to the earth.
"Put me down."
He hesitated and I tensed, prepared to make him. But he let go of my legs and my thighs slid along his until my feet hit the ground. Why that last touch seemed more intimate than all the others I couldn't say.
But my face flared and my stomach rolled. What had I done?
Given in to the wildness I kept buried inside. A wild-ness that had gotten me nothing but trouble the only other time I'd set it free.
The flare of a match, a flame illuminated his face. I wanted to kiss him again, taste him, touch the hollows at his cheeks with my fingertips.
He glanced at me as he drew on another cigarette. The smoke trailed out of his mouth as he spoke. "I've been thinking of nothing but you all day. You're not my type, but maybe that's why you're so tempting."
I looked away. God, he reminded me of –
Suddenly Damien stood right next to me, and I hadn't even seen him move. "When I touch you do I leave a mark, a blotch, a smudge?"
His long, supple finger trailed down my arm. I lifted my eyes to his.
"I can't see anything," he whispered. "Except you."
For an instant I was dazzled by his words, captivated by his smell, his heat and strength. Then I heard all of what he'd said, and it made me wonder…
"What did you do?"
Something flickered in his eyes, too fast for me to see if it was a lie or the truth.
"Nothing I won't do again," he said, and walked away.
The only thing left behind was the scent of smoke and the whisper of his touch. Despite the suspicion that he was much more than he seemed, both still tempted me – more than anything had ever tempted me before.