Circle of the Moon (Soulwood #4 )- Faith Hunter


The night sky was a wash of cerulean blue over the trees and the roofline, with a trace of scarlet and plum on the western horizon. A silver wedge of moon would rise soon, no longer full, an important consideration when eating a picnic with a were-creature. Other than the stars, our only light came from an oil lantern propped on a flat-topped rock, casting shadows over the blanket and used paper plates and the half-empty bottle of Sister Erasmus’ muscadine wine, and even that would get snuffed as soon as the meteor shower began.

I was safe on Soulwood land, even in the full dark, and had no need to worry about my surroundings. I was primarily concentrating on the danged wereleopard lounging in human form on the picnic blanket beside me, looking amused, and maybe just a bit smug. Dang cat. “Take. Off. Your. Shirt,” I demanded again.

“Why, Nell, sugar, if you were so desirin’ of seeing me in my naked glory, all you had to do was ask.”

I blushed, which didn’t show, not with my new coloration, but I knew Occam could smell my reaction and hear my suddenly galloping heart. But we had been over this conversational ground on two separate evenings. Two official dates. This was our third and I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I inhaled a steadying breath and leaned in until my face was an inch from his, wiping out the horizon. He had no choice but to focus on me. Quietly, almost a whisper, I said, “This ain’t my first rodeo, cat-man. I been fighting recalcitrant males for mosta my life. You died. You’re still scarred and mostly hairless and moving slow. Now. Take off the shirt. Lemme see the scars so I’ll know what to do to help heal them.”

“My face is bad enou—”

“No arguments. You been putting this off for days. Lemme see so I can help you.”

Occam eased away from me, his body dropping back from the elbow that held his weight, his western-booted ankles uncrossing and recrossing as he sat up. His face lost the laughter and teasing and took on a wary expression. His Texan accent grew stronger. “You brought me back from the dead, sugar. You did the best you could. There ain’t no point in this. I’ll heal eventually from shifting.”

“Yeah? You ain’t getting better fast enough, not even when you shift here on Soulwood under the full moon.” I shoved my head forward the way the werecats did when they were irritated. Bumped his nose. “You ashamed a your’n body, Occam, sugar?” I asked in my strongest church accent, using it as a weapon to get my way. But it didn’t work.

“No.” He bumped me back. “You ashamed of yours? I’ll take off my shirt if you take off yours.”

Shock and excitement and fear and laughter shot through me like lightning. I settled on laughter, a sputtering, staccato sound that echoed back from the house and the massive trees that ringed the acreage and flowed down the hill toward the lights of Knoxville in the far distance. I said, “I ain’t ashamed a nothin’, kitty cat.”

Occam laughed at that, a purring sound that rumbled through his chest and the earth beneath us. It was well after the three days of the full moon—part of the reason I’d picked tonight for our picnic—at a time when were-creatures could shift if they wanted to, but weren’t forced under control of their creatures. Occam’s cat was reckless at all times, however, and he reached for the hem of his T-shirt with his damaged left hand, the scars on the two ruined fingers bright white in the darkness.

Our cells dinged with incoming texts at almost the same moment. Of course. “Dagnabbit,” I cursed. Occam’s laughter deepened, a catty purr. His good hand found my neck in the dark, his palm heated and smooth, his fingers long and bony and firm. Determined. He pulled me to him. His lips found mine and his body rolled me over, his elbows holding him above me. Not prisoning me. Not aware that I wanted him to lay his weight over me and throw caution and worry to the wind and—

He kissed me. Hard and hot. That very improper kiss he had promised me long months ago. His scruffy, scarred face scrubbed against mine. I kissed him back. Dragged him closer. He shoved his body higher, over mine, his jean-clad legs tangling in my long skirt. The scent of his sweat was manly