The Kingdom of Hungary, 1610
I watch the ground pass by beneath my paws rather than risk meeting the eyes of the other wolves. They probably aren’t looking anyway, having better things to do than greet the mongrel, even on a full moon. I’ve spent so long pretending not to care it’s almost worked. Who needs them? Not me.
I give a full-body shake to settle my fur how I like it and amble toward the heart of the village, a cool night breeze keeping me company. The chattering of insects pings from the forest beyond a row of humble cottages as I continue past.
Anticipating tonight’s run has me eager. I imagine the frantic heartbeat of my prey as I target my dinner. Pent-up energy dances in my muscles, tickling every nerve and rumbling in my chest.
I love the hunt. Nothing else in my life brings the satisfaction I take from stalking, chasing, and tearing into my prize. It’s one of the few activities where the others tolerate my presence. Though they’ll never admit I’m the better predator, they’re always willing to devour the feast I provide.
Only Ava treats me as equal. She’s too old and frail to hunt for herself these days, but I’ll be sure to bring her a choice portion. Nothing beats a fresh meal, and she deserves the pleasure more than anyone.
It wasn’t always like this. I had friends once when childhood still sang with innocence and the world had yet to slam its doors on me. But remembering better times only brings sorrow, so I move forward to whatever tonight might hold.
Voices sound from fifty paces ahead. Odd because most of the pack would normally have shifted by dusk. Among them, a voice I don’t recognize floats to my ears.
“I must speak with your alpha,” says a smooth tenor, calm, though his timbre vibrates with urgency. “The matter is vital.”
Risking an upward glance, I scan the gathering. Jolan and Ozor, the pack’s enforcers, stand in their human forms facing the speaker, both tense and braced for a fight. But the stranger’s posture isn’t threatening. He’s neat, wearing charcoal stockings under a crisp blue tunic. Knee-high black boots gleam with a recent polish. Spine straight, shoulders back, weight settled in the heels, not the toes. Nut-brown hair hangs tied at his nape, most of it hidden beneath a fashionable black hat. If his features weren’t puckered with annoyance, he might be handsome.
I creep closer on silent paws, ears flicked forward.
“We’re busy,” barks Ozor. “Or hadn’t you noticed the moon? Come back another night.”
The stranger’s lips part, but before he can reply, Farkas storms through his front door.
Clad only in a pair of worn tan breeches, the pack alpha thunders down the porch stairs and into the commons. Even barefoot, Farkas is intimidating, towering head and shoulders over the others. His black eyes land on the stranger in a threatening glower, but the man isn’t shaken.
“You’re the alpha, I presume?” The stranger extends a hand, his movement graceful, as if he’s been invited to a friendly tea instead of invading hostile werewolf territory on a full moon.
Farkas ignores the proffered hand. “Your kind isn’t welcome here.”
Your kind. Wondering what that means, I inch forward so I can scent him for myself.
The stranger returns his arm to his side, fingers curled but not fisted. “And you have my apologies, but this couldn’t be avoided.” His eyebrows arch as he inclines his head. “We must speak.”
I sniff the air. His scent is masked by soaps. Lavender was used for his clothes, rose for his skin and hair, but beneath the added fragrance lies the spiced scent of blood—his own, yes, but also…someone else’s? That’s odd.
“Then speak,” growls Farkas. “What do you want from me, vampire?”
A vampire! I’ve never seen one before. He looks so…human. Fragile. Not what I’d expect of a blood-drinking night terror at all.