Grace is confronted with the truth about her handsome neighbor. Now she must decide where her future lies, with the feral love of a werewolf or her only dreary life as a secretary. Choices become complicated when the other lake inhabitants learn about the wild beast running in the woods at night and enlist the help of the locals to catch and kill it. Time is running out as Grace finds herself on a collision course to destiny.
I reached my cabin, limped inside and shut the door behind myself. The click of the clasp echoed through the lonely house and mimicked my dreary thoughts. My only comfort was the sheer exhaustion I felt, and that blessed me with the inability to think beyond going to bed. I slipped into my nightshirt and beneath the sheets of my bed for a long, long snooze.
I knew things weren’t quite right when I woke up and found the time was noon. My internal alarm had shut off signaling something was amiss inside me, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. I was too exhausted, confused, and, yes, a little angry over last night. My mind kept replaying the conversation with Will and his ridiculous revealing. Werewolf? Really? How dumb did he think I was? Had he been dropping those hints of Eastern Europe just to fool me into believing him? Maybe those scars weren’t even real. He could have had Vuk do some makeup magic.
I crunched through breakfast with those bitter thoughts in my mouth and, seeing as I had nothing else to do, I limped onto the back deck and settled into one of the wicker chairs. The lake was alive with the sounds of laughter and talking, but the noise was eerily suppressed. The attack the previous night had dampened the joyful, innocent spirits of the cabin folk. They now glanced at the woods not with a promise of adventure and exploration, but in fearful suspicion. Every shadow was a beast waiting to strike. Every snap of a twig was a threat stalking them in the brush.
The fear permeated my thoughts, and memories of last night resurfaced. Those golden eyes attached to that hideously long face. The size of the claws as they held me down. I unconsciously clutched the locket around my neck. That was when I remembered I hadn’t given it back. I’d broken our friendship, and didn’t deserve to have it any longer. I needed to return it as soon as I had the energy and willpower to knock on the door.
“Grace! Grace!” a voice shrieked. I turned to see Olivia running toward me at the fastest speed her high heels would allow. She was winded by the time she reached the steps, and paused to clutch at her chest and catch some air. “Thank. . .thank goodness you’re all right,” she commented.
I frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be all right?” I asked her.
“That terrible beast. I have news about it,” she revealed. Olivia climbed the few stairs and plopped herself down in the wicker chair beside mine. She fanned herself with her hand and shook her head. “I just came from Steuben’s small cabin near the front gate, and the tale he had to tell was awful.”
“What tale? Didn’t he tell you everything last night?” I asked her.
“Oh no, my dear. You see, he was in such a nervous state when he came down the mountain that one of the doctors on the lake gave him a seditive. Well, it certainly calmed him, but too much. He was out until just an hour ago, and you know a man has to eat first before he gets down to business, so I patiently waited for him to have his breakfast,” she explained. I thought she stretched the truth about the waiting patiently part. “And then he told the most harrowing tale I have ever heard. He said a monster attacked him, just like you told me last night, and that you were the one to save him. You distracted it so he could hurry off and find help.” Is that what cowardice was called now? Finding help?
“What did he say it looked like?” I wondered.
“Oh, his description was terrible. He said it was some sort of giant wolf, and its eyes were red and its teeth gnashed and it drooled everywhere.” She paused to shudder for dramatic effect. “Well, you can imagine what happened when I heard that story.”
I don’t know why, but my heart skipped a beat. “No, what happened?”
“Why, I called up those ranchers who had wanted to come on the lake property and told them to set those traps immediately,” she revealed. “Traps aren’t nearly as bad as a rabid wolf or coyote coming off that logging road and eating us.” She set a hand over mine that lay on the arm of my chair and smiled apologetically at me. “After hearing Stuebens’ description of the beast I can understand how you mistook it for a monster. The size must have been enormous, and I’m sure you’ve never seen a wolf before.”
My free hand clutched harder at the talisman and my heart thumped in my chest. Traps. The ranchers were setting traps to catch the beast, and Will told me he was the beast. Whether or not I believed him, he certainly believed himself. That meant he’d go out there in bare feet and get himself caught in those traps, or worse. He might get shot.
I stood and wobbled a little on my injured leg, but found it was a little better since I sat down. “I just remembered I have something to do inside,” I informed Olivia.
She stood and nodded. “Certainly, my dear, and I can’t blame you any for wanting to go inside. The sun will be setting soon.” She was right. I’d wiled away the afternoon watching the world wander by and the sun was on its last hour of life for the day. “I also wanted to warn you that some of the ranchers may be out hunting the creature tonight, so it’s best to stay inside,” she advised me.
That meant I had to hurry. “All right, I’ll go inside and rest a bit,” I hastily mumbled as I hobbled toward the door.
Olivia followed me. “Did you need anything before I leave?” she asked me. I wished for her to leave, but I wouldn’t be that blunt. It might rouse her curiosity, and that would never get her away.
“No, I’m fine. I just need some more rest. Good evening,” I replied.
I scuttled into the cabin and nearly shut the door on her face. I heard a huff of indignation at my rudeness and her quick steps as she hurried away. In a moment there was silence and the encroaching darkness of night. I stepped out the back door, mindful of the line of sight from Olivia’s cabin, and slunk my way along the wall of my cabin and around the corner. There was clear sailing to Will’s cabin and I was soon knocking on the door. Vuk answered it and bowed his head. I looked past him and the cabin appeared devoid of everyone but him.
“Where’s Will?” I asked him.
“Out. Would you like to leave a message for him?” he suggested.
“No, I’d like to see him to tell him to stop this foolishness about being a werewolf. The ranchers are setting traps in the woods and hunting tonight, and if he’s smart he’ll stay inside instead of traipsing about the woods pretending to howl at the moon,” I told him.
Vuk’s pale face grew paler and he opened the door wide. “Please step inside,” he requested.
I frowned. “Why? What’s wrong?” I wondered.
“My Master is not here because he has already set off for the woods,” he informed me.
My eyes widened and all the terrible possibilities flitted through my mind. “Then what are we going to wait around inside the cabin for? We need to go find him and warn him!” I argued.
“He will not be found easily. His familiarity with these woods in unmatched,” Vuk countered.
“But we still have to try!” I insisted.
Vuk glanced down at my injured leg on which I put tentative pressure. “You are in no condition to help him,” he pointed out.
“I don’t care. I have to warn him. Which way did he go?” I questioned the servant.
Vuk pursed his lips together, but stepped out into the chilling night air and locked the door behind himself. “He climbed the hill a half hour ago, but informed me he would travel no further than the logging road,” he told me.
“So he headed left or right at the road?” I guessed.
“That is correct,” Vuk replied.
We strode across the road and dove into the myriad of paths that led up the hill. “Then when we reach the top you head left and I’ll take the right,” I offered.
The corner’s of Vuk’s mouth twitched as though he wanted to protest, but something flashed through his eyes that changed his mind. “Very well, but I must warn you to be extremely cautious. He may not recognize you in his wolf form,” Vuk commented.
I rolled my eyes and hobbled over the uneven path. “I’ll be careful not to let him scratch me,” I quipped.
“It is the venom in his mouth that is the transmitter of the curse,” he corrected me.
“Listen, I know you believe Will about all this werewolf stuff, but I’m going to drag his naked body back to the cabin and get him some mental help,” I told him.
He ignored my snark and glanced down at the locket around my neck. In the fuss I’d forgotten to take it off. “While we are separated I must insist that you keep the locket close to your person,” he requested.
“I’m not planning on throwing it away,” I quipped, but his serious expression killed any humor in my remark.
We reached the logging road a few minutes later. By that time the sun was setting over the lake and there was a chill in the air. I wished I’d worn a coat and that my damn ankle didn’t throb so much. Vuk glanced toward the left while I looked to the right.
“I will search higher. He may have wished for a greater distance than beyond the lake property,” Vuk suggested.
“And I’ll go around the lake and see if I can find him,” I offered.
“God willing, we shall meet on the other side,” Vuk replied.
With that uplifting statement Vuk took off at a quick jog up the logging road. I took the lower end that wound down the hill to where I knew not.