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  • Jacque Stevens

Meet the Beast (Cry Wolf Chp. 7)

Twisted images of wolves and men haunted my dreams. Painful dreams. Dark dreams. I moaned and thrashed until I forced myself to open my eyes and reason again. Long curtains moved in the breeze. The light from the open window cast shadows on the otherwise dimly lit room—a room with stone walls, wooden floors, and the musty, aged smell of dirt.

I wasn’t in my house at all.

I was in a strange bed after . . . It all came rushing back. The grief, the terror of the night before. Most especially the pain. My whole body ached as I raised my head from the worn sheets. I found a welt on my forehead and my arm. “Where am I?” I asked, the words dry and hoarse.

A low and eager voice from behind the curtains answered at once. “I brought you home. The horse spooked, and you hurt your leg, so I wrapped it up. I did it on a wolf cub once. It made him all better, so you’ll be all better soon.”

I barely digested the words, regathering myself. My boots and stockings were missing, but the dust was so thick on the wooden floor, I could trace the footprints and streak marks to where my things had been piled near the wall. I swung my bandaged knee around.

“No, not yet! You’re going to ruin it,” the same voice cried.

I didn’t care if I ruined it. Or if my head reeled like a drunken man. I had to know where I was. Or at least who I was talking to. I stood on one foot, holding on to the bedside table and trying to keep track of the voice at once. “Where are you?”

“Um . . . hiding.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t want you to get up and run, but you’re already getting up so . . .”

His dark figure shuffled into the light, revealing his face and bare feet. A young man with shaggy hair hanging around his shoulders smiled at me. “Hi. Are you a girl?”

He had sprung out at me so fast, I stumbled back into the bed with a thump that must have passed as a nod.

“I thought so! You have . . . those!” He fanned his fingers and curved them in the air near his chest. “I like them.”

I tried to catch my breath. He was human. Of course he was human with the proper number of fingers and toes. But still he seemed wrong, and I had to stare and stare some more to mark every subtle difference. The way he crouched his back and the sharper angles of his thinly bearded face. The way his red hair seemed tipped with black and how I could barely see the white in his gray eyes. And though he bounced his feet like a boy and wore an untucked shirt a size too large, I still suspected he had the solid frame of a man in his twenties.

“And you have . . . fangs.” Or at least his canines seemed more pronounced than they should be. That was simply the first thing that came out, but I instantly regretted saying it because then his smile dropped in a poor attempt to hide them better.

“You’re going to start yelling, aren’t you?”

“No . . . no, I like your fangs.” Or at least I couldn’t imagine telling someone who possessed them that I didn’t like them. As my eyes adjusted more to the dim light, I found another table and a door behind him. “I just need to go home. Thank you for helping me, but . . .”

“No.” The beast boy stood more firmly in front of the exit. “You can’t go home. Mother said I couldn’t help or talk to you unless I promised not to let you escape. If you did, all the hunters would come.” He shuddered. “I don’t like hunters.”

I felt down my coat and apron at the reminder—a frantic sort of reflex. I wasn’t surprised that my gun was missing, but I still tried to straighten my back. “I’m a hunter.”

He laughed and showed his fangs. “You’re not.”

Not this again. “Because I’m a girl?”

“Because you fell off your horse and didn’t hit anything. If you’re a hunter, you’re not a very good one.”

I couldn’t argue with him there. But he didn’t have to seem so happy about it.

“The other hunters will be looking for me anyway.” I thought of Jean’s rows of antlers and other trophies even though I never cared for them before. “If you don’t let me go—”

“You were alone. They don’t know where you went.”

Dread settled into me at the thought. If Jean couldn’t find me, then what? “So, you’re just going to keep me here . . . forever?”

The beast boy didn’t answer. He reached behind him to something else in the shadows. “Are you hungry? I caught you dinner.” He dropped a dead pheasant on the table next to me.

Warm blood oozed from the large bite mark on its neck.

I had plucked and dressed enough birds from my snares that I might have been tempted if I saw anywhere to cook it. And if he hadn’t sprung it on me with the grace of a barn cat leaving a mouse on the porch. I scooted away.

He tilted his head back at me. “Don’t you know how to eat?”

“You eat it raw?”

“Raw?”

“I don’t eat meat unless it’s cooked.” Lightheaded and a bit numb, I felt my words become more detached. My thoughts too. There was still a chance all of this absurdity was a pain-induced fever dream, and I would wake up again in my real house or back where I collapsed in the woods or anywhere else that made a bit more sense.

My father would be alive again, sipping his tea in the kitchen, and we would—

“Cooking? Like fire?” the boy asked, halting all my desperate thoughts.

“Yes. Like Fire.”

He shuddered again. “Mother doesn’t like fire.”

“Who is your mother?” I asked. She certainly seemed to have a lot of opinions I had to contend with.

He glanced behind him. “She doesn’t want to meet you yet. But she’s happy you’re here. She said I shouldn’t have a wolf mate. It’s not proper. Mother likes things proper.”

There was nothing proper about this. And did he just say . . . ?

“Do you want to be my mate?” he asked.

So, he did say mate. At least this offer was easy enough to refuse, even if I was feeling a bit dizzy again. “No, thanks.”

He leaned in more earnestly. “Is it because I haven’t fought any other males for you yet? I could. And I’ll hunt for you. I’ll feed all our cubs too if you want some.”

“Human babies do not eat raw meat, and neither do I.”

He frowned at this, like it simply hadn’t occurred to him before. “Well then, what are you going to eat? I’ll get you anything you want.”

Good question. I was hungry. But I wanted him to leave more than I wanted food.

It didn’t seem like anything in the room would stop spinning until he was gone.

“Do you have any . . . plants? Berries? Things like that?” Something he would have to go outside to get?

“Yes!” He sprang up to his toes like nothing could make him more excited. “I’ll go get you some. Stay here, and I’ll be right back.” He ran out the door, closing it so roughly that it bounced open again behind him. Dust stirred from the floor in his wake.

“Take your time,” I said sweetly and started to stand.


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