It’s been almost a year since Rylie Gresham was bitten by a werewolf on Gray Mountain. Now something is beckoning her back to the place she was attacked, along with every other werewolf in the world. But they aren’t the only ones heeding the call. A group of hunters notices them gathering and sees it as their chance to wipe out the entire species.
Seth is about to graduate high school when he learns of the final hunt. He secretly plans to save Rylie and his werewolf brother even though he has to play along with the hunters to do it. But Rylie doesn’t want to be saved. She’s already decided to solve her problems with a silver bullet if answers aren’t waiting on Gray Mountain.
One way or another, everything is about to end—whether it means Rylie’s liberation or the end of her life…
Sometimes, when Rylie was alone, she practiced shooting the gun.
That was how she thought of it. Not “a gun,” or “that pistol she stole from Abel,” but the gun. Special emphasis on the first word.
It was a revolver. She knew this because the word was stamped on the side, along with the name of a manufacturer she didn’t recognize. Rylie had never fired a gun before, but she had seen people get shot. After hours of turning it over in her hands, probing its parts with her fingertips, and pointing it at the wall, she thought she had it figured out.
She knew the business end and the trigger. Those were the important parts. Though not as important as the single bullet in the chamber.
Rylie sat on the edge of her mattress, popped the revolver open again, and tipped the bullet onto her bedside table. It was the same lonely silver bullet she had been hiding in her room for weeks. It had been in the pistol when she stole it from Abel’s duffel bag.
She warmed the metal of the gun in her hands, thinking about all the times she had seen Seth shoot empty cans and the way he stood to stabilize his arm. Rylie lifted the unloaded gun and aimed it at her wall. Pulled the trigger. Heard the click, watched the barrel rotate, imagined the resounding bang.
It wasn’t cold in her room, but she shivered.
Her bedroom at the werewolf sanctuary was meant to be cozy. The walls were painted an inviting shade of blue, the bay window let her look down on the gardens, and her bed always had a fresh duvet filled with fluffy down feathers. But there was no hiding the fact that her window was barred from the inside, or that the paint was scored by claw marks. Her mattress had been replaced six times already, and she had only been there for four months.
Rylie aimed the gun at the claw marks on her wall. Those were from the last transformation, so Scott hadn’t had time to repaint. He kept several buckets of that blue in the closet just for her.
Beyond the reinforced wall, Abel was waiting for the same thing she was. A new moon. He changed later in the night than she did, so he might have been resting in anticipation. He would run with the other werewolves when the time came. They had acres of empty, fenced land to enjoy, where no human would be in danger.
Rylie wouldn’t join them.
She pressed the barrel of the gun against her temple and closed her eyes.
Someone knocked on her door. Rylie shoved the gun under her pillow. “Come in,” she said without raising her voice. Anyone visiting on the night of a new moon would have hearing as good as hers, and she could hear the mice playing in the field outside her window.
Abel entered. He was tall, dark-skinned, and broad-shouldered. He filled the room like shadows filled the night.
“What are you doing?” he asked. He wore nothing but loose linen pants, which were designed to fall apart when his body grew and changed. It bared the scars that ran from his temple to his hip.
“Same thing as you. I’m waiting.”
His eyes narrowed. He sniffed. “What’s that smell?”
The bullet was still on her table.
Rylie grabbed it when he peered out the window and tried not to wince at the way it burned her hand. She sat on her fist. “I don’t know. Did you bust into my bedroom to ask stupid questions, or is something going on?”
“Me and Bekah and Levi are leaving. We’re taking the new kid out for her first run, so we thought you might want to come.” He didn’t manage to sound even slightly enthusiastic about the idea.
The “new kid” was Tyas, a thirteen year old who had fallen into their sanctuary after a family vacation to the Rockies ended in a werewolf attack. Her parents went home. She stayed. She had recently finished transitioning to a full werewolf, spoke very little English, and cried all the time. Rylie had been avoiding her. Actually, she had been avoiding everyone, but Tyas more than the others.
“No thanks,” she said.
Abel glared. “You’re changing in here again?”
“So what if I am?”
“We’ve got two hundred acres out there, and you haven’t seen more than the front yard. I know you’re still being all whiny about that thing that happened at Christmas—”
“Whiny?” Rylie’s voice went up an octave. She couldn’t hold it back. “You think being upset about killing eight people is whiny?”
He shrugged. “I’ve killed more than that.”
“You killed werewolves. Not farmers. Not fathers. Not—”
“Whatever. Look, you can stay in here if you want. I don’t care if you want to mope in your gloomy pit of a room. But Bekah’s getting worried that you won’t leave, and that means Scott’s getting worried, too. You’re going to have a whole coven of witches on you if you don’t act like you’re getting better.”
She bit her bottom lip. “But I’m not getting better.”
“Like I said. Whatever.” Abel paused halfway out her door, and something flitted across his face that might have been sympathy. “You and me could go on our own. You know, let Bekah and Levi babysit Tyas. There’s plenty of space.”
“No,” Rylie said forcefully.
Any hint of sympathy vanished from his expression. Abel’s mouth opened like he was going to say something else, then clapped shut again. He slammed the door behind him. It was reinforced with silver and steel, so it clanged in the frame.
Rylie peeled her fingers open. The bullet had burned a red divot in her palm. She grimaced as she slid it into the chamber of the revolver, then blew on the injury and shook out her hand.
She wasn’t whining or moping, no matter what Abel said. She was more dangerous than the other werewolves at the sanctuary. It was better to hide.
Rylie tucked the gun into a drawer on her bedside table. Her blood grew cold as closed it, and her gaze was drawn to the window. The new moon was invisible in the black sky, but she knew it was peeking over the hill. She could always feel the moon.
The change tugged at her, like the moon was connected to her breastbone by a silver thread. Rylie stood and grabbed the bars as she gazed at the clear night sky. Her heart worked twice as hard to beat. Her blood grew thick and sluggish.
She fastened the bar on her door—not that werewolves were any good at operating doorknobs—and undressed. She folded her clothes and stuck them in the drawer with the revolver. Her hands shook as she pushed her furniture against the walls.
“Maybe it won’t hurt this time,” she whispered.
The stars blurred as the moon rose. Her eyes burned with tears. Her skin itched with fever.
Figures darted past the window. Four other werewolves, still in human form, fled for the trees. The wolf inside of Rylie longed to join them. She wanted to run, to feel the dirt between her toes, to be enveloped in the chilly spring breeze.
Someone gave a sad cry that sounded like a howl. They wanted her to come, too.
No. I can’t.
The last time she ran loose, she almost killed her aunt.
Painful memories were enough to kick the change into high gear. The power of the moon buckled her knees. Rylie sank to the floor, and her forehead bumped against the carpet.
Her jaw and cheekbones popped. Her skull cracked like ocean ice as her muzzle grew, and the skin stretched to the point of tearing. Rylie’s nose extended in front of her eyes as teeth erupted in her gums with flares of pain. Blond hair pooled around her hands.
It shouldn’t have hurt. After so many months of shifting shapes, she should have been used to it. But it was like taking a sledgehammer to the face every time.
She cried out as her lower back snapped, flinging her onto her side. Her kneecaps dislodged. Her anklebones strained as her feet rearranged.
The room blurred. She couldn’t focus on anything but the carpet two inches from her face. Where was the wolf? She prayed for it to sweep her human mind away and release her from the pain.
Let me go… let me forget…
The tail ripped free of her back. New muscles knit together as fire swept down her spine.
The mind of the wolf pressed into her, and Rylie surrendered. The pain became distant. It kept her from having to think about murders, revolvers, or monsters. And she definitely didn’t have to think about everything she left behind when the werewolf destroyed her life.
All she knew was the cold peace of a predator’s mind. It was better that way.