Clouds parted, drifting from the face of the moon to reveal the luminescent orb that seemed close enough to touch. Though the moon wasn't quite full, it was enough to complete her transformation. Glynnis Shaussegeny lifted her head and howled her rage and agony at the source of her greatest joy and the bane of her existence. The preternatural sound would carry far, she knew, and a chill would rattle through the collective spine of every Woodcutter's Grim citizen who heard it. Like a rippling mirror, the Black Lake before her seemed to make the horrifying sound emanating from her echo and reverberate across the otherwise still waters.
Just as abruptly as the moon had been uncovered, the clouds gathered before it once more, and Glynnis shrank back from werewolf into human as the light waned and darkness became almost complete in the clearing. On all fours at the edge of the water, her clothes in a careless pile nearby, Glynnis felt the forest behind and around the clearing she crouched in sheltering her like a living thing. She experienced no fear, no comfort--only the crushing sense of loss that had brought her here, alone, each night for so long. And something more.
I'm not alone. For the past few days, whenever she came here, she sensed someone close yet just beyond reach...watching her.
The moon unveiled once more, and, in her subsequent transformation, she attuned her werewolf senses to discovering what was out there. She felt pulled toward whatever compelled her attention, but she couldn't scent the source nor could she target its location.
Thick, black clouds covered the face of the moon. Against her will, Glynnis shapeshifted once more, collapsing to the ground with a growl of frustration. Sobs crowded into her throat. She lifted her heavy head and looked across the surface of the lake. It was no longer smooth as glass. Waves were slowly building.
The summer had proved to be an unbearably sweltering one, and she'd needed the comfort of the cool waters just to get through each day. But the weather had also been unusually capricious with violent storms descending out of nowhere and lashing out at the town in relentless, uncontained fury.
For a moment, she thought she saw movement--a figure rising out of the churning water. But it was gone before she could convince herself what she'd seen had been real. Shaking her head, she began to dress though she was still wet from her earlier swim. She didn't like the storms. They did nothing to temper the wounds festering inside her. How can Kurt be with her? He belongs to me. He's my chosen mate. For a moment, her fury abated and the petulant thought she always had surfaced instead. He has to be.
Dressed now, she started up the forest-enshrouded path toward the main house on her family estate. Before she slipped into the dark shelter of the trees from the beach clearing, she glanced back. For another fleeting moment, she thought she saw the figure again. But then a crack of lightning sent her hurrying up the path in an effort to reach the house before the storm hit.
Just as the sky opened up and rain as heavy as a flood began to fall, she reached the stone porch and pushed open the front double doors of the house. An instant later, she closed herself away from the storm. Breathing heavily, she stood for a few minutes in the elaborate entry way opening up to the Great Hall. She could guess where the rest of her family was. Her grandparents were relaxing before dinner in their wing of the modern castle they'd called home for four generations now. Her oldest brother Lance, his wife and small child, were in their wing, no doubt enjoying the perfection of their recent reunion. Glynnis' younger sibling Ransom was in his laboratory in the north wing "dungeon", working tirelessly to find a way to break the family curse. He'd completed high school and college and gotten his Master's degree all without stepping foot off their estate.
And Mother will be working late at the hospital--anything to avoid the emptiness of her life without Father. She won't talk about his disappearance--because he betrayed their covenant by being unfaithful to her. We all know it, whether or not she'll admit it. She'll never forgive him... but she'll never get over his loss either. And I won't get over the loss of my chosen mate. Kurt was mine first. I won't accept that he's with another woman, that they have a child together. A child I need and can't live without.
Glynnis rushed through the massive dining and living room hall to the circular library filled to the cavernous heights with endless bookshelves holding volumes on every conceivable subject. On the hand-crafted mahogany book stand that was the focal point of the library lay open the thick journal she'd long ago memorized.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. When the curse had been pronounced on the Shaussegeny family more than thirty years earlier, the pronouncement had seemed so clear. Her fingers leafed through the pages, finding just the one she wanted. She read the words carefully, as if she could find some hidden meaning she'd never seen before:
"From this day forward, the Shaussegeny name will inspire fear, trembling, yea, even loathing in those who hear it. You long for strength and power in body, mind and spirit, and you shall have it. Yet each generation, one and all, will suffer this curse: The moon in each of its phases will change you into creatures of the night--my dark children. This shall be your rightful form, and you shall suffer greatly when you resist your true nature--the nature of the beast. Outside of Woodcutter's Grim only shall you be unable to take on your rightful form, but you will endure agony all the more for it, indeed to the threshold of death. Only by being what you are and giving yourself over to your predatory nature will you thrive and be strong. None shall resist you.
"Because your name has long been synonymous with faithlessness, even unto your own chosen mates, I add one more curse upon your family: Only one chosen mate will be allotted to each of your kin henceforth. The chosen one for each will be protected by one of my own offspring, a thing of darkness, which shall be sent ahead from birth to prepare the way. These chosen mates must also fall under the family curse, but these pairs will know true peace only when they become one with their chosen mate. Herein lies your salvation--and your damnation. Only if each of your clan remains faithful to their chosen mates in word and deed for all of their days will they have blissful contentment. Apart, mates shall be restless and forever unsettled, gripped by a sadness and despair unlike any other. Additionally, a terrible fate will come upon the one who breaks the mate covenant.
"And now there is but one manner in which this multi-faceted curse I have pronounced upon you and your family, one and all, for time unending can be broken and obliterated entirely: That beauty falls in love with the beast and vice versa, that evil loves good and good loves evil. If this should happen, your family shall be released from each aspect of my curse and your alliance with evil shall be ended."
Even now, whenever Glynnis read the words in her grandfather's journal, she could see no way to reconcile what she was going through. From the moment the creature in the Black Woods had uttered the curse and all Shaussegenys and their mates were bound to the pronouncements, each generation understood that their life partners would know of them from birth--that the "thing of darkness" would prepare the way for them.
Glynnis had felt the connection between her and Kurt Jones from the first time she'd scented him, the first time their gazes had met and they'd touched. She'd felt peace only with him. But then Kurt had fallen in love with Diane Anders, and nothing Glynnis had done in the time since had broken the hold the other woman had on him.
It can't be possible. Kurt is my mate and therefore under the Shaussegeny curse... But he wasn't suffering the way Glynnis was. He felt nothing but discomfort and deep regret about what they'd shared. According to the curse, Glynnis knew she should have killed Diane long ago and punished her life partner for his infidelity. Yet she couldn't. Somehow, in a way she couldn't explain, Kurt and Diane were protected--quite possibly because the two of them served as Woodcutter's Grim Guardians, two members of the Protectorate that kept the evil in this place in check.
Woodcutter's Grim citizens didn't talk about it, but all the natives knew that this town was unlike any other. Here, evil held sway. The people who lived here had also come to accept that evil delighted in coming to them in fairytale forms to catch them off-guard. Inexplicably, citizens remained in this place they called home and accepted the evil in their midst like a dark secret.
It was this same evil that Glynnis' grandfather had summoned from the deepest, most sacred part of the forest: The portal dolmen, a swirling mass of blackness that lived and breathed and was believed to be the point of origin where evil and reality met and merged. In order to save the current and future generations of Shaussegeny males from a genetic disorder, Grandpa Jack had bargained with the shapeshifter borne of a fairytale nightmare, that had stepped out of the Portal. The alliance made that day had led to their curse, one that they'd all eventually accepted and even embraced--all except Ransom, who believed he could find a cure in modern science.
"Sukey said you were down at the Black Lake again."
Glynnis barely raised her head when she heard her mother's flinty voice as she entered the library. Sukey was the only human servant they'd been able to retain. The rest had fled in terror during the first full moon. Sukey knew about the curse, remained loyal, and they'd taken precautions to prevent her from falling under their malediction... or worse.
"And now you're back in the library, reading your grandfather's journal again. What are you searching for, sweetheart?"
Glynnis shook her head, not willing to give her an excuse to take her burgeoning anger out on her. Besides, her mother didn't need to ask the question. She knew exactly what Glynnis was looking for--proof that Kurt was her chosen companion. But that proof had eluded her endlessly. She couldn't accept the truth. Because I'm too much like Grandpa Jack. Too much like Father. I want what I want and I can't be deterred. I've always been that way. Mother's the last person who would sympathize with me. If only Father was here...
Her expression hardening, Glynnis glanced at her mother when she sat in the chair behind the antique desk. Her mother Marnie was beyond beautiful, her face smooth and unlined. Before her husband's disappearance, her hair had been as brilliantly red as Glynnis'. Now it was pitch black--a sign, perhaps, of her unwillingness to forgive and even save her husband from his fate.
Glynnis' father, Gav Shaussegeny, was far from the first male in the family who'd cheated on his spouse. It'd been almost an accepted practice--the men cheating, the women always forgiving--until the curse had put an end to that abomination. Gav was the first to break the covenant since the pronouncement. Since the alliance, a Shaussegenys' jealousy had become a terrible thing to behold. A terrible thing to experience.
None of them knew what kind of punishment Gav was dealing with, but they all knew it was irrevocable, permanent, a form of excruciating hell. And none of them doubted that Marnie knew exactly where her husband was and how to free him. Glynnis had accepted long ago that her parents' relationship had been and would forever be one of love and hate, extremes. Marnie didn't want to talk or do anything about Gav's disappearance, but her lonely despair was evident to all.
"The full moon is in a few days. Everything will be fine then," Marnie said in a distracted tone, as if half of her brain was trying to convince herself her words were truth.
While it was true that they all thrived under the clear, undiluted moonlight, this time Glynnis couldn't get herself to believe that everything would be all right.
Slowly, her mother unfolded herself from the chair she occupied. "Dinner's ready. Are you coming?"
Restlessness churned inside Glynnis in a violent storm like the one outside driving against the Gothic style windows. She shook her head. Her mother put a hand on her shoulder for a moment, then left her without another word. Though Glynnis had no wish to go back out into the rain, she found herself shrugging off dinner, a family event each and every night, and going out to her car. She drove the long, dark miles into town, to Kurt and Diane's house. When she parked across the street, planning to wait to catch a glimpse of him through the windows, she didn't expect his truck to pull up into the driveway next to his wife's car. He used a newspaper over his head to protect him from the storm on his dash inside. Luckily, he never once glanced toward her car.
Watching him disappear inside his home, Glynnis held her breath expectantly. The way she hadn't in almost a week, she didn't experience the overwhelming urge to confront him, to make him face her--face the covenant he'd broken with her. Nothing's right, and even the full moon won't--can't--change that. Because I feel nothing. Kurt has been my life for so long, and now I feel no emotion at all for him. All this time since he left me, I thought him not wanting me would be my death because I've wanted him more than anything in the world for most of my life--a love so strong, I could have murdered both him and Diane for what he did by walking away from me. But I'm empty.
The only thing that had changed recently was the arrival of Lance's chosen mate. Heather had finally come to him a month ago with the child she'd borne him. She'd accepted who and what they were, and as a result their little family was experiencing the absolute bliss that came for life mates with their curse--a blessing, in truth.
Ever since Heather and Gavin got here, since their first full moon together, I've felt lost. Insane with longing. Longing for my life companion. Devastation for the child I might never have. Holding her nephew brought her agony each time. She knew exactly what she was missing whenever his tiny, strong body pressed against hers. For the past week, she'd been avoiding him, and she knew her distance wasn't good for either of them.
Her entire life had come down to avoidance because the fire that had been inside her for so long had gone out. How could she accept that Kurt Jones wasn't hers, that they didn't belong together, that she'd been wrong, so very wrong about everything, for most of her life? If Kurt wasn't the one...
Briefly, she thought of the figure she'd seen emerge from the lake, the certainty that there was a presence on the other side, watching her.
Glynnis closed her eyes. Where was her chosen mate?
That was the true curse her entire family was under, she realized the way she never had before. Waiting and focusing all her energy onto one thing, one single-minded goal. What purpose did she have when she was alone and lost, with no end, no happiness or fulfillment in sight?