Cedar threw the brace of wood across his door, and pulled to be sure the hinges were secure. He had already banked the fire, leaving a heart of oak to parcel out heat for the next eight hours, and set a pot on the hook above it. He had already hung the bucket of water up on the ceiling hook in the corner of the room and shuttered the cabin’s single window.
The last thing, the most necessary thing, he did not want to do.
A heavy iron chain thick as his wrist lay across the bricks of the hearth, one end welded through the iron ring pounded into the stone, the other end connected to a wide leather collar.
Cedar knew the chain and collar were unbreakable. He had fashioned both with his own hands.
He turned away from the door and paced in front of the fireplace, careful not to disturb the chain at his feet.
The missing Gregor boy weighed heavy on his mind. There was little information he could rely on. Grieving parents could conjure any sort of story to explain how their child had gone to death—wolf, wandering, or even the bogeyman come stealing in the night.
If the boy had been taken by beast, there would be no hope he was still alive. If the child wandered off, there could still be time to find him. And if it was the bogeyman or some Strange thing that put hands on that small a boy and stole him away . . .
Cedar rubbed his hand over his face. If it was a thing of the Strange, he hoped the child was lucky enough to receive a quick death.
He stopped pacing and took up a cup from above the fireplace in front of the small mirror there. He swallowed the last cold dregs of coffee. He hated the chain, hated the collar. And hated that he’d have to wait out the moonrise to begin his hunt for the boy.
Cedar placed the empty cup on the mantel next to his brother’s pocket watch, then crouched in front of the chain, taking it up in his hands. The call of moonlight in the air burned like whiskey in his blood. He knew just how long he could resist the change. Had spent four years tied to the moon, ever since he’d hunted the red wolf Bloodpaw in Pawnee country, and instead caught the attention of the Pawnee gods.
There was no time left for memories, no time left for bucking fate. He was losing control. Even now, his hands stretched wide, his joints and bones loosened for the change. A haze of luxurious pleasure clouded his eyes and mind like opium, promising unearthly pleasures.
It was a lie. He knew what would happen after the change. The beast inside him would be free. He would kill. And he would not remember any of it until he woke in the morn.
Cedar bent his head and, with clumsy fingers, fastened the collar around his neck.
He stood and stared at his reflection in the small mirror there.
Still a man’s face, strong nose, hard jaw, his skin tanned with something more than pure European heritage. His eyes were his own, hazel, with long lashes, above them dark brows and waves of thick walnut hair. Lines at the edges of his eyes hinted of past laughter, while other lines, at his mouth and forehead, mapped his sorrow. Clean-shaven, he was not a plain man, nor an old man, nor an unhandsome man.
He was, however, a cursed man.
The moon rose, inching higher, pushing his heartbeat to quicken. Fast. Faster.
One single silver ray poured through the shutter. Cedar moaned, not from pain, but from pleasure and sin, as his body twisted, stretched, changed. He clung to humanity, clung to the mind of a man, as long as he could.
But moonlight loosed a flood of quicksilver heat through him and dragged him down with the weight of an ocean. He drowned in moonlight, drowned in the need for blood, flesh, death. He threw his head back and yelled as his humanity shattered. The only sound that escaped his throat was a blood-hungry howl.