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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 14 - Naked Truths

By the time the wagon pulled into Kissing Town, Wolf's bruises had stopped hurting quite so much, but a nervous restlessness kept him from feeling quite like his old self. Despite this, in the last few miles he'd managed to eat his part of the packed lunch and most of Gigi's to boot, though Gigi had refrained from any nasty comments about his eating habits. That was fortunate, as his hunger had not abated — in fact, he was more ravenous than ever, a condition that he noted and filed away to be dealt with later.

Since their conversation Gigi and he had fallen into a quiet companionship, which he found familiar and comfortable and rather reassuring, especially considering his expectation that something awful was certain to befall them. Why he felt this way, he didn't really know — the last time he'd been in Kissing Town no one had tried to kill him, or beat him up, or burn him at the stake. It was, however, where his heart had been broken so thoroughly by Virginia that for a time he feared he'd die from it.

Oh, well, he thought gamely, banishing the bad memory, that won't happen this time. It can't! I can't make a fool of myself in front of Virginia, or spend money on useless gifts for her, or otherwise behave like the thoughtless wolf I used to be. First of all, she's not here to see me do it, secondly, I haven't got any money, and third, I'm a changed wolf --er, man. I'd never do that again. I now know the meaning of true love.

"Roses for your lady, sir?"

John had stopped the wagon in the town square, and a little girl dressed as a walking valentine was peering up at Wolf, a bunch of red roses in her hand. "Er--no," Wolf said, dismissing her with a wave. Gigi was gazing around her at the happy couples, hawkers and merrymakers strolling through the street. Colorful signs advertised everything from kissing lessons to honeymoon hotels and Gigi took it all in with a smile on her face. "This town is beautiful!"

"Uh-huh." Wolf had been this way before, and knew that ugly problems often came wrapped in pretty packages. His nervousness flared as he gazed up at the tower dominating the square; that's where the Huntsman had lurked, waiting for an opportunity to wreak his revenge. Don't think about that! he cautioned himself. You left the huntsman tied up in the forest. He's probably dead.

But of course another thought insinuated itself. You thought he was dead the first time, too. Maybe you should have done what Gigi said. Maybe you should have shot him with his own arrow.

Wolf sighed. Being a changed man carried its own set of complications.

He climbed out of the wagon gingerly, holding his ribs, happy to discover that his legs would hold him up. Gigi jumped down beside him. John was eager to get on to his marketing and then be on his way, so they thanked him and watched as he turned the wagon around and disappeared down the street.

"Well," said Gigi. "So this is Kissing Town. Now what shall we do?"

It was a very good question, indeed. Did Snow White have a plan in mind, Wolf wondered, one with instructions for Kissing Town? At least without the mirror involved he didn't have to win 10,000 gold wendells or anything...or did he? Until he could figure it out, he considered his torn and filthy clothes, stained with dirt and blood. This was no way to appear in Kissing Town. People here were smartly dressed, and a ragged appearance might draw a little too much attention. "Well," he said, considering, "what I'd really like is --"

"I want to take a bath." Gigi was looking down at her clothes critically. "And I need a change of clothes."

When had she started reading his mind? A bath would feel wonderful. He could almost feel the hot water, a luxury he hadn't enjoyed since the last night at Wendell's palace. Ahhh, bubbles, waves lapping gently to release his sore muscles...mmmmm — sitting in a tub with the beautiful, wet, naked...

With a start he snapped out of his reverie.


Gigi was pointing to a sign that said "Sweets-2-the-Suite Hotel." The sign, pink and orange with tiny cupids and hearts, was so florid it gave him a headache. Right now he had no patience for cute names. But then again, the whole town was cloyingly cute, and there was no escaping the terrible puns and questionable taste of even the most simple establishment. And the idea of a bath and a real bed was so desirable that worries about the dire fate that would surely befall them here in Kissing Town were almost driven from his head.


"Let's go to that one," Gigi ordered, falling back into familiar pushiness. Wolf was too tired to put up much of a fight though not too tired to goad her.

"Why Gigi," he said, a salacious look on his face, "are you taking me to a hotel?"

"In your dreams, wolf-boy. I need to freshen up, and you — well, you look completely disreputable."

"That's because I am. Isn't that what you're thinking?" He hadn't meant to snap back at her, but the words slipped out of his mouth.

She gave him a quizzical stare, then shrugged. "This is a one time offer, Wolf, because you've had a rotten day. But you can come or you can stay here in the road, for all I care." She turned and flounced toward the hotel.

He followed her, catching up in a few long strides. "Okay, okay, okay. Forgive me. I'm just really tired. Thanks."

Her mouth unpursed. "You're welcome."

The lobby of "Sweets to the Suite" was decorated in the same florid style as most of Kissing Town, and the unctuous clerk had a huge waxed moustache and a pretentious accent. Probably phony, Wolf thought darkly. He was feeling impatient and had to restrain himself from pacing. He hung back a little, aware of his disheveled appearance, sensitive to the glances guests were throwing in his direction, smarting at how they seemed to hurry past him.

Gigi accosted the clerk. "How much are rooms with bath, please?"

The clerk smiled broadly at her. "We have a range of rooms, my lady, from the simple 'Drowsy Corners' to the grand 'Beds of Paradise.' But --" he looked from Gigi to Wolf appraisingly, "Perhaps my lady and her rough-and-tumble swain would like the ultimate in comfort for their night of romance, the Honeymoon Suite."

"We want two rooms!" they blurted out in unison, then, startled, looked at each other warily.

"Oh, you've had a little spat. Never fear — it will pass. Everyone's in love in Kissing Town."

"Almost everyone," Gigi said, rather forcefully. "Not us."

"Yeah," Wolf echoed. "Not us."

The clerk smiled indulgently.

A few minutes later the two of them were being led upstairs by a peppy bellhop who seemed far too happy with his job. "No luggage?"

Wolf resisted the urge to bite the fellow right in the middle of his sunny disposition. "Our luggage was the, um, accident. Perhaps you can help us get some new clothing?"

"Certainly, sir. Happy to!"

Gigi elbowed Wolf and snorted as he flinched. "I suppose you expect me to pay for that?" she hissed between her teeth.

"It's that or I'm naked," Wolf replied matter-of-factly, and snorted back as Gigi hesitated a beat before following on. It was absurdly easy to get her goat. Hmmm, GOAT, nice juicy goat, with perhaps a rabbit chaser --He staggered a little as he came back to himself. He needed to get some food. Fast.

Gigi was shown a frothy confection of a room in red and pink, the "Doily Double," with lace-curtained windows overlooking the Casino. It was far too fussy for Wolf's taste, rather like being inside a box of chocolates --though Gigi seemed to like it well enough. Wolf braced himself for his own room, down the other end of the hall. This one was marginally better, but not much, decorated as it was with purple velvet draperies and garish paintings depicting bowls of obscenely succulent fruit. The "Purple Passion Room," indeed.

But what he did like was the enormous bathtub prominently placed in the center of the room, already being filled with steaming water by an army of housekeepers. Can't fault the service, he thought, sighing a little in expectation. A maid finished sprinkling rose petals into the water (that was all right — he'd fish them out after she left) and handed him a fluffy white robe with the initials "S2tS" embroidered on the pocket, before winking at him and hurrying out the door.

"Ahem." The bellhop was waiting.

Wolf made a huge show of looking for a tip. "Sorry. Lost in the er--accident."

"Oh, that's all right, sir." He sounded oddly happy anyway. "Shall I go fetch you some new clothes, sir?"

"Yes, yes, please, that's what you should do." Wolf dashed behind a lacquered screen and began tossing his clothes over it in his frenzy to get into the bath. "The lady's paying."

"Good for you, sir." Wolf looked over the screen to see the bellhop winking at him in a knowing fashion. He emerged feeling, and looking, rather like a sheep, swathed in the fluffy white robe that reached nearly to his ankles. He regarded his image in the dresser mirror. A wolf in sheep's bathrobe. Would the fellow never leave, so he could rip it off and get into the tub?

"Would Sir care for any style in particular?

"Something nice, not too flashy." That went against his nature, but he thought it best to keep a low profile in Kissing Town while he figured out exactly what he was supposed to do. "Oh, and I like my coat tails a little on the long side."

"Very good sir. I'll take these along to have them cleaned, shall I?" The bellhop, still cheery, gathered up Wolf's grimy clothes and opened the hall door. "Shouldn't take too long. Sir will have his new ensemble in plenty of time for his evening with the lady."

"With the lady, yeah, sure." Wolf muttered. He was past caring what everyone thought. The moment the door closed he threw the robe onto the bed and climbed stiffly into the water. He sat down, sinking back against the side of the generously proportioned tub and uttered a sigh of complete bliss. The sensation of the hot water was even better than he had imagined. The water lapped against and soothed his aching muscles, making the scrapes and bruises sting, but in a good, therapeutic way. This is the life, he thought. Plenty of hot water, new clothes, people bringing you things, a nice, soft bed, a nice, soft, creamy, dreamy girl in the bed with you, her hands gently running along your –

Wolf sat bolt upright, splashing water on the thick purple rug. No, no NO — it doesn't help to think about her, about finally being with his love, being with Gigi —

NO! He splashed again. NO! I MEANT VIRGINIA, NOT GIGI! I wouldn't, I couldn't, not with my lovely, perfect mate waiting for me wherever she is, far away, NOT HERE, NOT ANYWHERE NEAR HERE, AND GIGI'S JUST DOWN THE HALL –

Oh, cripes! The feeling of calm relaxation that had possessed him moments ago was obliterated by a wave of guilt. "What's wrong with me? I am so bad, so bad! Wolves mate for life, I shouldn't be having these feelings about someone who isn't my mate!"

But why not? his brain countered. You're mated, you're not DEAD, Wolf. It's all right to look!

"No it's not! Because when I look, I want. And when I want, I try to get, and when I try to get, I --Well, it's just not good!"

Oh, come on, relax! Your mind may know she's not Virginia, but your senses don't. Your body surely doesn't. No wonder you desire her. Part of you thinks she IS Virginia. It's perfectly understandable.

"Understandable or not, that's no excuse. I'll just try not to think about her. That's it. I'll be good...she's all the way down the hall. I'm safely here in my own room --"

But the problem is, you don't want your own room, do you?

Ah. That WAS the problem. Despite the bone-shaking beating, despite his worries about what was to come, despite his belief that he WOULD, eventually, find Virginia, what he really wanted to do RIGHT NOW was to climb out of the tub, walk down the hall stark naked, fling open her door and drag Gigi into bed. No matter what he said to himself, or how he argued with his own conscience, Wolf found this sudden urge nearly impossible to ignore. He certainly couldn't ignore his own body; he was starting to get an erection just at the thought of her. Oh, no! When this obsession had started, he couldn't tell, but once he started obsessing about something, he knew from experience it was almost impossible for him to shake it. This only compounded his feeling of impending doom.

He gritted his teeth and splashed water on his face. Surely if he thought about something else the feeling would go away. "Good idea," he congratulated himself. "Let's see...what's the least romantic thing I can think about? Trolls. Good! That's good. Big ugly, nasty trolls, staring at me with stupid looks on their faces, weapons, metal piercings, leather clothes, leather, Gigi in leather, tight-fitting leather, tight in all the right places, sleek and yummy and ohhhhhhhh...No! Start again. Dwarves. Okay...short, tiny, Gigi's tiny, she'd have to tilt her face up to be kissed...Aagghh! Dwarves live in caves...mountain caves, mountain peaks, lovely twin peaks with rosy pink --"

Oh no! Wolf submerged himself, releasing his breath slowly in a stream of bubbles. Maybe if he stayed here he could soak some sense into his brain. Or maybe he'd just drown himself. Right now that didn't sound so bad..."Ptui!" He sat up, spitting out water, gasping as his air ran out. He lay back, morosely considering the universe. "Cripes! What's happening here?"

He had no answer for that question, so he closed his eyes rather than look at the plump cherubs painted on the ceiling, cherubs that looked good enough to eat.

Somewhat later, he awoke in a tub of lukewarm water. In addition to the cooling of the water, the room was now suffused in a golden light that signaled sundown. He couldn't believe he'd been in the tub so long. His fingers were completely wrinkled and the air on his wet body was beginning to chill him. Time to get out.

Someone was tapping at the door. Oh, good, his clothes. At least he wouldn't have to put on that silly robe again. "Come in," he called, and started hauling himself out of the tub before he had time to remember about hiding his tail.

The person who entered barely noticed his tail.

She was too busy noticing everything else.

"Wolf, I — Oh! My goodness!"

Wolf's mind registered Not bellhop--! and he plopped back down in the tub, causing a wave to wash over the side. "Go away!" Cripes! She'd nearly given him a heart attack! She should have knocked, or something!

She DID knock, you idiot!


Well, this was perfect. Here he was trying not to think about Gigi in relation to anything involving sex, nudity, or even a bedroom, and he'd gone and flashed her in his altogether. It would be funny if he wasn't in such an obsessed state about her.

And yet...somewhere in his brain a bad little voice was saying now's your chance...

As Wolf started to rise from the bathtub, Gigi thought: I can't believe he's not dressed yet and then I CAN'T BELIEVE HE'S NOT DRESSED! She ran back out into the hallway and slammed the door, leaning against the wall, panting, heart pounding. Good heavens! He was --she'd --he had --oh, dear!

She was shocked. She was mortified.

She giggled, and clapped a hand over her mouth.

She waited a few seconds, then knocked.

Wolf had taken the opportunity as she slammed the door to vault out of the tub and throw on the robe. "What?"

"Are you — um— decent yet?"

He shook himself, hating the feeling of his wet tail trapped inside the robe, and ran a hand through his still damp hair. "Yes."

But a few long seconds still passed before she dared to open the door ever-so-slowly. Gigi peeked through the crack, as if she were fearful of what she would find. "Sorry."

"You should be."

Her mouth dropped open. "No need to be so nasty. You told me to come in." Her eyes narrowed. "I bet you did that on purpose. Are you some sort of pervert?"

"Oh, right, right!" Wolf could feel his hackles raise and his eyes beginning to flash at her. "Go ahead, call the wolf a pervert! I bet that makes you feel better about yourself, doesn't it, you ignorant, spoiled little girl!" The last words came out in a growl.

"What? How dare you --"

"How dare I?" He started to move towards her threateningly, but this time she stood her ground. "Aren't you afraid of the wolf, little girl? Don't you know what wolves do to --"

He stopped, suddenly, mid-sentence.

"Go on! Whatever you were you going to say, say it!" Her chin was thrust out belligerently; her eyes challenging him to continue.

Wolf swallowed. She was so close, her scent overwhelming. "I--I-- never mind, never mind." Still muttering, he moved away from her, clear to the other side of the room.

Gigi frowned and opened her mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Bellhop!"

"Come in." Wolf was glad of the interruption. He didn't understand how they had gotten into a fight so easily. No, correct that, how HE had gotten them into a fight. After all, it'd just been a mistake, hadn't it? The bellhop entered with an armload of clothes. When no one said anything, he put them on the bed and retreated to the hallway. Wolf stood in a stupor for a few seconds, staring at the window, oblivious to the door closing. But when he turned around again, Gigi was gone as well. Pity, he thought. I should apologize for being so hostile towards her.

And he was beginning to suspect why.

He started to get dressed, but his mind was busy elsewhere. It couldn't be time, could it? Already? It had been significantly less than a month since the last full moon. But by what calendar should he measure that? When he had returned to the beginning of the journey, awakening in the prison, had that "started the clock" all over again? Or was it all continuous?

Wolf began to pace, scratching at his eyebrow nervously. Think, think. This time around in Little Lamb Village he hadn't been affected by the moon. The skies had been obscured by clouds, and there had been torrential rains — but surely he would have felt it if the moon had been there, rains or no. But he hadn't taken as long to make the trip, this time, had he? The timing was all off. He really had no idea where in the lunar cycle he found himself.

Except his behavior was telling him the answer.

"Huff PUFF! Not now! Not here!" It was bad enough in Little Lamb Village. He hadn't spent much time in town during a full moon --what would he do in a town devoted to romance and pleasures of the flesh? "Well, at least there aren't any sheep," he thought glumly. All right, all right, all right. What to do? He could hibernate in the room all night with a mountain of lamb chops, but his restlessness would probably drive him into the streets anyway. He could go off by himself into the wilderness surrounding the town, but he didn't feel up to it. Maybe he should try to distract himself..."Yeah, that's it! I'll go to the Casino! I'll watch people play, and I can't get into trouble myself because I don't have any money." Money wasn't very tempting, anyway, to a wolf in the Change. It didn't inflame any of his hungers. And speaking of hunger, his stomach was really protesting now. Time to eat.

Wolf looked at himself in the mirror. He'd put on the new clothes, because the old ones, though clean, still looked shabby. The bellhop had done well. Wolf admired himself in the new black suit with the deep violet shirt. Not TOO flashy, but just enough to keep him from looking like an undertaker. Besides, the color of the shirt made his black eye look less startling.

Now to find some food. But first he'd have to go apologize to Gigi for his behavior. He'd explain what he was going through. She'd understand. She had to.


Gigi went back to her room after the fight. Really! It was all HIS fault, and he was calling HER names? Here she'd spent nearly all of her remaining money getting him a place to stay, buying him clothes, and he -

And he'd embarrassed her. Her face still burned when she remembered walking in on him like that. Oh, it had been so silly! Just a mistake, but he'd turned it into something terrible, something she had done to embarrass HIM. Really! As if she'd wanted to catch that.

She felt herself start to giggle and tried to stop, hiccupped with the effort, and giggled again. True, she'd only caught a glimpse, but, well, she'd never seen ALL of a man before. She put her hands over her eyes, as if she could stop the image in her brain, then chastised herself for being such a fool. For heaven's sake, Gigi, girls --women --your age are married already! And some, she knew, had lovers when they were even younger. So why was she making such a fuss? After all, he's just a man.

Well, not precisely. She'd seen a swish of a tail, too, in that glimpse, and that had shocked her more than, well, the rest of him. Or at least as much. Worse, in truth she hadn't been all that embarrassed, really. In fact, if anything the incident had made her even more...curious.

Oh, Gigi! Shame on you! This is no way to behave! He's a despicable wolf!

Wait! Whose voice was speaking in her head? Hers? More likely her father's. Her entire life she'd done things that her father considered wrong, inappropriate to her station, from chatting with a stable hand as if he were her equal, to dancing "in an unladylike fashion." And let's not forget the lecture I got when I complained about father whipping that servant boy. His piteous cries had broken her heart, and all her father said was "this is none of your concern. Go to your room!"

Well, she wouldn't be going to her room again, not ever. She'd never go back. Running away had been the best thing she'd ever done --spending time with the wild gypsies, meeting commoners, wearing, eating and doing what she pleased. And certainly meeting Wolf had opened her mind to all sorts of considerations! He wasn't at all like the wolves she'd been warned about by her father. She'd never, really, felt in any danger from him — in fact, he'd saved her life and, despite occasional rudeness, generally behaved like a real human being towards her. Traveling with him was really an education.

She suppressed another giggle. An education, all right. Just look at today...

Her mood turned serious. If that was what she really felt, she'd better stop saying things to him, things she didn't mean, hurtful things like "you disgusting animal" and "you have revolting table manners." True, he was aggravating, but those were the kinds of words her father used. She didn't want to be like her father, close-minded, bigoted and cruel. She wondered if she loved her father, at all. It was clear he didn't care a thing about HER. If he did, he wouldn't want her to marry a boring, silly, SAFE stick-in-the-mud like Wendell. Her father didn't know a thing about her, who she was, what she wanted out of life. He never would. The thought both saddened and angered her.

You know what would REALLY get to him, Gigi?


If you chose someone NOT boring, NOT silly, NOT safe, and totally inappropriate. That would serve your father right!

She smiled wickedly at the thought. But, but, marry someone like that? That seemed a little extreme –

Who said anything about marriage?

Gigi gasped a little at her own thought. She'd never — oh, she couldn't. She wouldn't.

Could she?

"Oh. My. Goodness!" She had to stop thinking about this. Better go do something else. Like eat dinner. She was certainly hungry. She turned the handle of the door and walked into the hallway –

--just as Wolf was passing her room on the way to the stairs.

They nearly collided. "Oh," said Wolf.

"Oh," said Gigi.

They stopped, awkwardly trying to avoid looking at each other, and then both started to walk towards the staircase again. Gigi seemed to get in Wolf's way. He seemed determined to get in hers. "Excuse me," she said.

"Excuse ME." Was he making fun of her? She stopped. Wolf gestured for her to go first. She did the same for him. Neither moved. This was starting to become ridiculous. "Ladies first," he said, sounding a bit strained. "Thank you." This time she did go first and he followed behind. Then at the top of the stairs she halted abruptly and he collided with her, nearly knocking her down the steps. He reached out to grab her, to keep her from falling, and for a moment she had the dizzying sensation of leaning at an angle towards certain injury, yet being held securely in his arms. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation.

Wolf seemed to feel otherwise, for after taking a step backwards he released her quickly. "All right?"

"Yes," she said, feeling oddly breathless, "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Wolf scratched and looked around nervously. "Um."

She thought he looked like he had something to say. She had something to say, too. "Listen --"

They started speaking at the same time. Again.

"Gigi, I um — sorry for what happened. I didn't mean to get so upset, but it's because --"

"Look, Wolf, I know what happened wasn't your fault, not entirely, I have a tendency to take offense, I know I shouldn't --"

"--you see, it's my cycle. When the moon gets full, I start feeling very nervous, and very argumentative, and I --"

"--be that way, but I'm used to getting my own way, you were right, and it's taking me a while to stop doing that, and I -"

"--have been trying to concentrate on finding Virginia, but sometimes I get distracted, I get these urges, and--"

"--was embarrassed to walk in on you like that, I mean I do respect your privacy, so naturally I was feeling sensitive, and--"

"--so I want to say I'm sorry and please forgive me."

"--I'm sorry and I hope you'll forgive me."

Gigi looked at Wolf. What had he said? Something about forgiving? "Okay, sure."

Wolf looked at Gigi. What had she been talking about? It sounded like she forgave him. "Thanks."

They smiled at each other and he finally let himself take a good look at her. "Wow! You look sensational!" She did, too, in a long violet evening dress that made her eyes look even larger and bluer. She pirouetted, and the dress swished around her ankles.

She regarded him. 'You do, too." He did, she thought, he looked amazing, considering what he'd been through in the past 24 hours. True, he still sported a black eye and a bruise on his cheekbone, but the black suit made him look respectable anyway, and the shirt brought out new shades in his oddly-colored eyes. She noticed something else, too. "Your shirt matches my dress."

So it did, Wolf noted. Clever bellhop. Dangerous bellhop. Wolf looked at Gigi again and bit down hard on the inside of his mouth. She looked good enough to –

"Eat? Uh--dinner? Want to?" His voice sounded hoarse, even to him. No, no, NO, Wolf! Bad idea. Oh, come on. A wolf's got to eat, doesn't he? Especially at a time like this.

"All right. I guess I'm still buying."

"'Fraid so."

"Well," she said sarcastically, "Maybe later we'll go to the Casino and you can win me a thousand wendells."

"A thousand? Why not ten thousand?" he said airily. Shut up, Wolf! Control yourself, will you?

"Well, we'll see." She smiled at him. Wolf certainly isn't boring. Or safe. And that suit really makes him look quite --Goodness! Stop thinking this way!

His return smile was a little tight. Watch yourself, Wolf. This could be bad, very bad...or very good...

Gigi went to ask the desk clerk for a suggestion for a restaurant, and when she turned around to ask Wolf his preference, he wasn't there. She found him outside on the sidewalk, pacing nervously, scratching at his eyebrow in that weird way that unfortunately reminded her of a puppy she'd owned. He was talking to himself, something about "Good, good, good --no! --bad! Bad! Bad!"

Odd. "You're acting very strange --"

She stopped because he had frozen in place, hand still up at his head. "Am I? You noticed that? Do you think anyone else did?" He seemed genuinely concerned, and she felt rather confused. Was he asking her to help him act more --normal? Like an ordinary human? If so, perhaps it would be kinder to encourage him.

"Uh, no, not that strange. You just seem a little, uh, nervous, that's all."

He relaxed somewhat. "Good, good. Thanks. Good. I'm really trying, but it's getting a little hard — huff-PUFF! I mean, it's hard sometimes --er, difficult. Under the circumstances. You know." I'm so glad we had that little talk about my cycle!

I have no idea what he's talking about! Gigi thought, but aloud she said, "Good for you." She fell into step beside him. "So...dinner? What do you like?"


"Ooookay." She took a step away from him, but continued on.

They decided on a restaurant on the next street, a bustling bistro that drew them in with its inviting aroma but wasn't too expensive. They sat outside, among a crowd of diners. Though he didn't mention it to Gigi, Wolf thought it best that they not be alone --images of him dining alone with Virginia the last time brought up too many memories, both pleasant and unpleasant. And the presence of other customers, though a little annoying, gave him the feeling that nothing unfortunate could happen. Which of course made no sense if one analyzed it, but he was disposed to grasp at straws at the moment.

He devoured a rack of lamb and then, still unsatisfied, consumed a huge, bloody steak, as Gigi looked on, her eyes wide. She sipped her wine and ate her meal with extreme delicacy. I bet she's thinking I'm a disgusting animal again! Look at her, leaving meat on that bone! She's doing that on purpose, to tempt me! He downed a glass of wine and tried not to feel defensive. He was tired of her judging him, though he had to admit, albeit grudgingly, that she was being civil to him at the moment. The food satisfied his hunger, at least temporarily, but he kept glancing at the sky, waiting for the moon to rise. He filled his wine glass again.

Worries about the full moon and his continued nervousness plagued him throughout the meal. Part of his brain listened to Gigi, who seemed oblivious to his distress. She had started nattering on about the weather, the town, their clothes--a variety of inconsequential matters. Her laughter seemed forced, even to Wolf, who admittedly wasn't quite himself. But what, he wondered, was wrong with HER, to make her babble on like this? He drank more wine and tried to ignore her.

He passed a hand over his forehead. Was he getting feverish? It was hard to tell, but he thought maybe he felt a bit warm. He didn't seem to have stomach cramps, but then again, with the pounding his ribs had taken, it was hard to tell where that soreness left off. He had, however, developed a slight headache and had to restrain himself from telling Gigi to stop chattering. He forced himself not to comment, and instead drained his wine glass. He moved to refill his glass and was surprised to find the bottle nearly empty. And now that he thought about it, this was their second bottle. Gigi had had two glasses --he remembered refilling it, but the second sat on the table, barely touched. Wolf frowned — had he drunk the rest?

That really wasn't like him at all. Normally he could take or leave spirits, though if food HAD to be cooked, he did like it cooked with wine. As a drink it tasted awfully acidic, though tonight he seemed oblivious to the taste, guzzling it as if it were water. Alcohol affected wolves less than it did ordinary people, but he was half human, and after so many glasses the human part of him definitely was beginning to feel the effects. He put the glass down, missed the table entirely, and stared blankly as the glass seemed to fall in slow motion to crash into shards on the ground.

"Are you all right?"

Wolf blinked and waited for Gigi to come into focus. "What?"

"Are you all right?" She was biting her lip in that crooked way Virginia always did. Ohhhh, Virginia! He felt his throat close with emotion. "Your eyes went all weird there for a minute."

All weird? Were his eyes changing? Maybe he was further into the Change than he thought. "Fine. Yes," he answered, his voice a little thick.

"Okay." They watched as a busboy quickly swept up the glass and put another on the table. Wolf emptied the bottle into it. Gigi watched him, feeling a little concerned at the amount he was drinking. This was an unexpected wrinkle --should wolves even be allowed to drink? Did it make them dangerous? Wait, wait! What am I thinking? That's patronizing and unfair. Still, she felt a little shiver at the thought of Wolf out of control, beast-like, frightening. She looked at him surreptitiously. He seemed calm enough, checking the sky again, as he had throughout dinner. Frankly she couldn't understand why, as the low clouds that obscured the first stars of the evening didn't seem to promise rain. "Wolf --?" When he didn't answer, she reached over and poked him. "Hey! Am I talking to myself? Hello?"

Wolf had been looking at the sky but thinking about Virginia. Thinking about her made him so wistful that tears were forming in his eyes. When Gigi poked him he jumped and flinched away from her as if her touch were fire. "What? What is it?"

"Where were you, Wolf? You seemed far away."

"I was just..." Images of Virginia suddenly flashed into his mind, Virginia smiling at him, holding his hand in the swamp, turning her face up to him, rolling with him through the underbrush, touching his face — Oh, how he missed her! It was all too much to bear. His eyes got blurry and two tears spilled over and ran down his cheeks. He sniffled and wiped his eyes.

Gigi stared at him. Wolf was — crying? What had upset him? Don't tell me he's one of those guys who gets all maudlin when he drinks. Next I suppose he'll start singing old wolf songs about his mother! She wanted to ridicule him. She wanted to be annoyed with him.

The truth was, she found it all rather touching.

What could she say to him? She couldn't find the words, and cursed herself for her lack of experience in showing compassion. You have a lot to learn, Gigi! "Wolf, what's the matter--"

"Go. Let's go." In a lightning-fast change of mood, Wolf suddenly seemed impatient. His eyes weren't wet anymore; in fact they seemed rather wild, as if strange thoughts were whirling through his head. "Let's go NOW!"

"Okay, okay," she said, placating him, but he got up suddenly, nearly upsetting the table, and headed for the exit. His moods were certainly erratic! It was hard to keep up. He's dangerous, Gigi. He's a wolf. Well of course he is! HE'S certainly not dull! Uh-oh, that train of thought was making her nervous, very nervous indeed.

She paid the bill and followed Wolf, but when she got to the street he was nowhere in sight. "Oh, great! I buy you dinner and then you abandon me in a strange town!" She felt her anger rising. And then she heard the howl. "Oh, no! NOW what trouble are you going to get me into?" She barreled down the street towards the sound. It didn't take long to find him. Wolf was standing on the fountain in the town square, walking around the perimeter, pausing now and then to howl up at the cloudy sky. "What are you doing? Come down here!"

He grinned at her, a perfectly wolfish grin, charming and dangerous and somewhat giddy. "Oh, hello, Gigi. Where have you been? Awrroooo!"

"Sshh!" She made a face at him. "You know where I've been. Eating dinner with YOU! Come down here before someone notices you're a wolf, er, Wolf." She filled her voice with all the imperious entitlement at her command, but he didn't follow her orders. Instead he folded his arms and glared at her belligerently.

"Well, I AM a wolf. And who cares if anyone knows. What will they do, burn me at the stake? Huh? Again?" His voice was rising and becoming choked with anger. "Let them try! I'll stop them! I'll eat them all up! See if I don't!" He was teetering on the edge of the fountain and she began to fear he'd fall off, maybe break a leg. Or his neck. But amazingly he held his balance, nimbly stepping out of her way as Gigi tried to reach up and stop him. "I'm a wolf all right, people! Yessirree! Wanna see my tail? The lady wants to see my tail, don'tcha, Gigi?"

Gigi looked around in alarm, but the few passers-by seemed much more involved with their lovers and paid him no heed. "Come on, Wolf, come down here. Now."

"I'll show you I'm a wolf. Lookee here!" He started to unbutton his trousers, but Gigi had had enough.

"Stop it!" She reached up and grabbed his coat, pulling him off the fountain. Wolf fell but caught himself without landing too heavily. As it was, he landed on top of her, and for a moment they lay there, face to face. She panted a little, because the wind was knocked out of her. And because he was so close...

"Hellooo, Gigi," he said, smiling wickedly He took a deep sniff of her. She shuddered and tried to get away. He smiled lasciviously as she wriggled under him. "It must be destiny. Whaddya think?"

"Get--off--me!" With a grunt Gigi shoved Wolf aside and rolled away.

"What?" Wolf propped himself up to lean against the base of the fountain, leering drunkenly. The problem was, he looked like he was having trouble focusing on her, which spoiled any rakish impression he might have been trying for, and with his new coat splotched with dirt he looked like a derelict. Gigi had no sympathy for him.

"I can't believe I was feeling sorry for you, you animal!"

His grin faded. "Don't call me that." His voice was low and very, very threatening.

"Then don't act like one!"

He pulled himself to his feet and lurched towards her. As he got closer she could see beads of sweat on his forehead. His eyes were angry now, and he was scowling at her, and she felt a wave of terror. Gigi, why, oh why don't you keep your mouth shut? Out of the corner of her eye she could see movement, people on the fringes of the square. He won't try anything here, I think. I think I'm safe...I HOPE I'm safe.. He was getting too close. His mood had shifted from benign to threatening when she called him an animal. She should have known better. Evidently the word was a trigger for him --he'd taken offense every time she'd called him that. She shouldn't have said it, she knew that, but now it was out of her mouth. She knew she should have made her escape the moment he began to behave erratically, but now it was too late.

Wolf stopped less than a foot away, and raised his hands as if he were about to grab her or throttle her. Gigi froze. Surely he wouldn't, he wouldn't! Suddenly he closed his eyes and shook his head, clenched his fists, and blinked several times before letting his gaze fix on her. His eyes looked different again. He opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing, and stood there, his mouth open, until with a small sound like a whine he bolted away from her to disappear among the buildings.

Gigi sank onto a stone bench. She felt faint. What had just happened? She hadn't a clue. She put a hand up to her chest, felt her heart beating wildly through the thin fabric of her dress, and began to sob with relief. Are you sure it's only with relief?

"Gigi, you idiot! You idiot! And that Wolf! What's wrong with him?" The evening that had started out with so much promise was now in ruins.

Promise of WHAT? She laughed bitterly at her own foolishness. What had she expected? "Serves you right for getting such ideas into your head!"

She put her hand to her chest again, and was relieved to find her heart had stopped racing. And realized something else. Something was missing...something she expected to find, securely tucked in her bodice...

"My purse!" She leapt to her feet and scanned the square. Nowhere in sight. She'd lost her money and suddenly knew where with perfect certainty. "That — that — WOLF! He stole it!"


Wolf came back to himself outside the Casino. It took him a minute of intense concentration to realize where he was, and the thought pierced his fuzzy brain that he'd just been with Gigi and had behaved rather badly. He felt ashamed of himself and cursed the moon again.

He was clutching something, something small and soft and made of velvet --oh NO! How did THAT get into his hand? Gigi's little black purse, the one she kept nestled in her bodice. She hadn't given it to him, had she? He wrinkled his bow in thought, and in a moment remembered deftly retrieving it from its lovely hiding place as he had tussled with her on the ground. His fingertips remembered the sensation, now, and he shivered with the tactile memory. He'd had his hand down her dress and she hadn't even noticed!

He inhaled Gigi's scent from the fabric of the purse and rubbed it against his cheek, sighing. Then he caught himself. Stop it! You're only making things worse! Of course, the realization that he'd picked her pocket -- er, bodice -- appalled him as well. He had to stop doing these things. It really wasn't right.

He couldn't really figure out why he'd done it.

Noise from inside the Casino poured out into the street as the door opened. Wolf weighed the purse in his hand, then opened the little strings and peered inside to check the contents. Gigi didn't have much money left; she must have spent a fortune on the two rooms and dinner, and the realization that most of it had been spent on him made Wolf feel even guiltier. He counted what remained in the purse. There were ten gold pieces inside, and he whistled under his breath as he remembered that's exactly the amount I had last time! This put a whole new wrinkle on his actions. Suppose he'd been meant to take the money? Perhaps Snow White did expect him to win the Jackrabbit Jackpot after all.


He couldn't imagine. He tried to remember the rhyme, the riddle she'd told him, but his brain was muzzy and he had to concentrate very hard to remember.

"The path where dangers lurk,
The road once traveled by,
This you must not shirk
To find her by and by.

"What's done must be undone,
A stolen life regained,
A struggle to be won,
A captive soul unchained."

A captive soul unchained. That was the only part he could think of that made any sense here. Maybe, just maybe, he was supposed to ransom someone who'd been kidnapped, or, or, bribe someone to let a captive go? Could that be it? Would the queen accept money in exchange for Wendell?

It seemed very unlikely. But then Wolf was getting used to unlikely occurrences on this journey. He had to give it a try. Perhaps his destiny was again to free Wendell, this time using the money he'd win. Right, right — free Wendell to...what? Marry Gigi?

For some reason that didn't fill him with joy.

He dusted himself off and went into the Casino. The noise from the wheels, from the games and from the patrons shouting and cheering was overpowering and hit him like a solid object. He was remarkably dizzy, and thirsty, and somewhat confused about the evening so far. But he didn't feel like eating anything --or anyone --and began to hope this would be one of the easier full moons to endure. He just needed to avoid Gigi until it was over. In the meantime he wondered how much longer he could remain upright.

A cocktail waitress came by with a tray of drinks and Wolf helped himself to one as the tray passed. It was pink and fizzy and tickled his nose, but he was so thirsty he drank it down in one long swallow. Yuck. It tasted vile. It tasted — pink. It did little to relieve his thirst, though it did leave him with an interesting buzzing feeling behind his nose. The next waiter was carrying tall glasses of something blue topped with a parasol. Wolf couldn't figure out how a parasol that small could keep anything dry, but the drink was wet enough and less fizzy than the other, so he lost interest in pursuing the question. Afterwards, the buzzy, lightheaded feeling persisted, but at least he wasn't thirsty any longer.

He'd expected to find the same croupier as last time manning the wheel for the Jackrabbit Jackpot, and there she was, all crisp and neat in her snappy gold uniform. Her bright blond hair was pulled into a bun under a silly little bellhop's hat, and Wolf idly speculated that it might be very fine, indeed, to engage in some activity or other that would muss up her hair. He flashed her his most devastating grin, the effect ruined somewhat by a small hiccup. He cleared his throat and smiled again. The croupier smiled back. "Care to try your luck, Sir? Ten thousand-to-one return."

"Yeah, I know."

She raised an eyebrow. "Have you been here before?"

"You might say that."

She looked up at him through long, dark lashes. "I'm sure I would've remembered YOU, Sir."

"Wellll, thank you, Miss."

"You're welcome." She leaned in and beckoned him closer. He complied. "If I may say, so, Sir, you might want to try another game. This one's only ever been won once."

"I know. But I'm going to do it again." With a grandiose gesture he flicked a gold coin into her hand, and picked up the ticket she gave him in return. "Just watch," he said with great confidence.

The wheel spun and clicked to a stop. "Bad luck, Sir."

Wolf's grin barely wavered. "Another, please."

Whirrr. Click. "Sorry."


Whirrr. Click. "Sorry again."

"Another." A deep crease was forming on his forehead.

Whirrr. Click. "Um— not your night, Sir. Care to try a different game?"

"No!" He gave her another of his dwindling supply of coins, grabbed a green drink off a passing tray and slugged it down." Again!" The buzzing feeling was back, and so was his expectation of success.

"All right." Whirrr. Click. "Different number, perhaps?"

Wolf stared at the wheel, panic beginning to set in. He was having trouble focusing on the numbers, but he was sure he'd picked the same one he'd won with the last time, Seventy-six. That WAS the number. He was positive. But....maybe, maybe things had changed, he was here a different night, the wheel had been oiled a little more, or a little less. "How old are you, Miss?"


"Twenty-three, then." He handed her a coin.

Whirrr. Click. "Oh, dear."


Wolf narrowed his gaze to sharpen his focus and considered the wheel. The Jackrabbit Jackpot had ceased to be a game to him; it was his prey, and like any prey, it could be brought down. He looked at the three remaining coins lying in his palm. One of them HAD to win. He knew it. He felt certain. It had to --why else was he supposed to be here? "Again," he said, and his voice was intense and cut through the other sounds of the Casino like a knife. Several people who had been drawn by the wheel's activity stepped away and whispered about the dangerous-looking man gripping the table. Wolf didn't notice. "Again!" he repeated, more harshly. The blonde croupier regarded him with alarm, but took a coin anyway. "N-number, Sir?"

"You choose." His stare was intense and he made her a little nervous.

"I don't think I should, Sir."


"Is there a problem here, Arielle?" An enormous man stepped next to the croupier and examined Wolf with a critical eye.

"No!" Wolf didn't even look at the man, just stared unblinkingly at the wheel.

"Perhaps it's time to try another table, Sir," the man suggested, moving as he spoke to insinuate his bulk between Wolf and the croupier.

"I want to play this one." Wolf put a coin down on the table. "Seventy-six." He swallowed. "Please."

The bouncer shifted a little and nodded. "You heard the man, Arielle."

The wheel spun. People had gathered and many sets of eyes watched it spin. Wolf gripped the table tighter. The wheel seemed to spin forever. Then it slowed, and settled into the groove. The pointer stopped. "Twenty-three," said the bouncer. "Bad luck."

"Bad luck? Huff-PUFF, there's more at work here than bad luck, there's bad magic, too, or at least a bad wheel — what is it, lopsided? Weighted? Rigged? Cursed?" His voice was rising, drawing the attention of others seated at the tables. His words were a little slurred, too, as if his tongue wouldn't obey his brain.

The bouncer's face darkened. "That'll be enough. Time to go." He put his hand on Wolf's sleeve.

"I'm not done yet," Wolf said pugnaciously, pulling away. He and the other man were of a height, but the bouncer outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. Wolf didn't notice. Wolf didn't care. "I have two more chances!”

"You're out of chances, my friend. Let's go." The heavier man grabbed Wolf under the arm and started hauling him towards the exit. The crowd parted to let them pass. Wolf wasn't going easily, and he dug in his heels to brake their progress. It seemed to the onlookers that a full-scale brawl was about to erupt. The bouncer got a hand on Wolf's lapels and another around his throat. They began to struggle in earnest.

"There you are!"

Gigi's voice pierced the air, and both Wolf and the bouncer stopped to stare at her.

"Hello, Gigi," Wolf croaked, this throat constricted by the other man's fingers.

"Don't you 'hello' me, you thief! Where's my money?"

"Money?" Wolf tried to smile at her but the hand around his throat was hurting him so he kicked the bouncer in the shin with all his might. The other man yelped and hopped away, tripping and falling heavily onto a card table. The table collapsed under his weight, sending cards, money and people scattering. Wolf didn't even look. Gigi was here. And she was still waiting for an answer. "Um. Money..."

"You stole my purse. Give it back." Sheepishly he withdrew the empty bag from his pocket and gave it to her. "It's empty! Where's the gold?" Not daring to make eye contact, he opened his right hand to reveal the two gold coins still gripped in his palm. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open. "That's it?!"

"Well, I, uh --you see, let me explain, there's this thing, I'm supposed to win, I think, and the Jackrabbit --"

"Shut up, shut up, shut UP! I can't believe, you, you --" She couldn't even speak, she was so furious, and was starting to hyperventilate. Wolf reached over and put a hand on her shoulder to calm her, but it had the opposite effect. Gigi whipped around and cracked him across the face with her open hand, with such force that he staggered back. 'Don't you touch me! Give me my money!" She gabbed the hand that contained the remaining gold and the force of her action sent one of the coins arcing into the air to disappear into the crowd. She shrieked with fury and clutched the remaining gold piece, shoved Wolf roughly away from her and ran to the exit. Someone tittered in the silence, and then the noise of the Casino resumed. The floor show was over.

Wolf stood frozen for a moment, his cheek still stinging from the blow. He'd felt woozy, but the shock had cleared his head somewhat, leaving nothing but anger, anger at the place, at himself, and right now mostly at her. He burst through the Casino doors, a scowl on his face, growling a little in his throat. "Gigi! Come back here!" How dare she strike him! Didn't she understand what he was trying to do? He was on a mission, a noble quest, one he had to complete, and she was denying him the means to do it! "GIGI!"


A small man dressed in the uniform of the Casino was running up to him. "What do you want?" Wolf snapped.

The fellow caught his breath at the intensity of Wolf's tone, but carried on gamely. "Uh, well, your winnings. I have them."

"What winnings?" Wolf stepped towards him. "WHAT winnings? I didn't win the Jackrabbit Jackpot." He sounded bitter.

"Jackrabbit --? Good heavens, no. The Chariot Chase Roulette --"

"I only played the Jackpot wheel!"

The man chuckled indulgently, then looked again at Wolf's expression and his chuckle faded. "Sir, you played a coin just as you left the Casino. On the Chariot Chase. While you and the lady were, um, arguing."

Wolf tried to remember, but all he could summon up was Gigi slapping him. Wait — she'd grabbed for the of them flying through the air, towards –

"The Chariot Chase Roulette?" There was astonishment in his voice.

The man smiled. "Yessir. Your number won. A gold coin on number seventy-six--"

"Seventy-six? "

"--at five hundred to one. Here you are." And he held out a small red sack that jingled as he hefted it.

Wolf took the sack. Not ten thousand, but — "Gigi!" He turned and raced down the street, shoving the money in his inside pocket.

There she was, up ahead, about to go into the hotel. He had to tell her, had to make her understand –

"Keep away from me, Wolf! I'm warning you!" She put her hands out in front of her as a warning, but as a defense it made Wolf laugh derisively.

"Warning me? What, you might hit me again?" He'd been about to tell her about the winnings but here she was making him mad again. "You'd better not try it or you will be very, very sorry, no question about it! Now listen, I have to --"

"Leave me alone, or I'll scream my head off till they arrest you!"

He stepped in, blocking her escape. "Everyone always says that. You think I care any more?" He was close enough to her to see the fury in her eyes. She wasn't easily terrified.

She was close enough to see her handprint on his cheek. He wasn't easily put off. "Back away, Wolf!" She dropped her voice to a hiss. "Haven't you done enough? You stole my money. Isn't that enough for one night?"

"I didn't steal it! Well, all right, I did, but I needed it, don't you understand? And I've got --"

"You liar, you thief!"

"If you'd just shut up a minute --"

"'Shut up?' YOU shut up, you insufferable, drunken --"

"Narrow-minded, silly --"




There it was, that word again. Gigi saw Wolf's eyes flicker yellow in a very non-human way, and then bore into hers with that terrifying light. She could see his expression change, tightening into fury. He was truly frightening. He was –

"Don't you dare--"

And then the strangest thing happened. There was a slight rustle in the air and flash of pink and purple somethings over her head, and Gigi's expression melted into one of pleasant acquiescence. "Woooolf," she said, in a very, very different way, and smiled at him seductively.

Wolf's eyes snapped back to their human color. Damn this magic love town. Gigi was, she wanted, she, he could --No, no, control, control, control! "Gigi, Gigi, listen to me, you're under the influence of --"

"Shut up," she said, this time very softly, and flung her arms around his neck, pulling him in, her mouth suddenly on his, kissing him hungrily, greedily, right there in the street.

The sensation after so much denial, so much fear of giving in to his own desires, was too much to bear. Something binding, something holding Wolf together suddenly broke, snapped apart completely. He ceased to think about right, wrong, good, bad, yes or no, but yielded, finally, to his raw desire for her. He moved forward, carrying Gigi back to the wall, his body pressing her to the brick wall, his mouth finding hers. Her eyes opened in a silent O, but their depths were filled with passion and expectation as strong as his.

The kiss was intense, and seemed to last forever, but eventually their hands began to move freely over each other, plucking at fabric, struggling to loosen, lift, untie where they could. Desire made them reckless. People were coming down the street towards them, but Wolf didn't care, he was lost in Gigi's aroma and her feel. But Gigi retained a shred of propriety and pulled her mouth away from his. "Room," she gasped.

"Yours," Wolf panted between kisses. "'Closer." Still entangled with each other they lurched into the hotel lobby, oblivious to the smarmy desk clerk, who nudged the bellhop and said, "I told you! Pay me." --then up the steps to the second floor, where one of them extricated a hand from under the other's clothes and turned the knob to Gigi's room. The door sprang open and they nearly fell inside, as another couple coming up the stairs watched in bemused understanding. This was Kissing Town, after all.

Wolf shut the door with his foot and, still kissing, the two of them traveled the short distance to the bed. Wolf was dimly aware of the red-velvet bedspread, but as they crashed onto the bed, the feel of the velvet against the back of his hands inflamed his senses even further. He rose up from Gigi enough to pull off his coat, as she began to unbutton his shirt. He sat up, pulling her with him, and even before she'd finished pulling his second sleeve off his arm, he was sliding his other hand up under the silk of her dress, gathering the soft fabric until he could pull the dress off over her head. By now both were flushed and panting, hair tousled, eyes feverish and hands demanding. The rest of their clothes, shoes and hose came off with a series of pulls and grunts and whimpers and then they were naked on the velvet-covered bed.

Wolf, drunk with want as well as alcohol, was way beyond the thinking process. His senses were swimming with her aroma, her taste, the feel of her skin, the velvet rubbing on his arms and knees, but Gigi, though giddy with magic, had enough coherence left to think I'm really going to do this! I'm going to make love with a man! With Wolf, with -- A thrill of terror snaked through her excitement. He's a wolf. This is dangerous. He's dangerous. He's --Any reservations she might have had at that thought evaporated as Wolf kissed down her neck and began to bite softly at her breast, his tongue flicking hotly over her nipple. Her body responded without thought, arching up towards him, craving more contact. Oh — this feels --!!! And then she, too, was lost.


Faint music and noise from the casino entered the open window of the room where Wolf and Gigi slept. The gentle wind blew the lacy curtains to and fro, wafting the smell of flowers into the room from the vase near the window.

Wolf turned over restlessly, waking from a sleep of confusing dreams. His head was throbbing, POUNDING, and the random sounds from the street seemed overwhelmingly loud. He frowned and rubbed his aching forehead. His mouth felt terribly dry, and he was queasy. What had he been doing? Had the Peeps --? He opened his eyes. No. The room was dark, but he could see clearly that he wasn't in the barn, that he was in a lavishly furnished room. He felt soft sheets over his naked skin, feather bedding beneath him. Kissing Town. Hotel. Oh. Oh, no. Oh, cripes! He turned his head sharply, too sharply, and pain stabbed wickedly through it, but he didn't care, he had to know –

He expected to see her, but his heart still fell as he saw her slumbering peacefully next to him. Gigi, her short curls on the fluffy pillow, a smile playing on her lips. Smiling over what they'd done, no doubt, the same things now drilling a hole through his heart.

Oh, no, no, no, NO! It was true.

Wolf sat up, ignoring the sensation of vertigo as his head came upright, pulling his uncooperative body off of the bed, backing away from it. From her.

What had he done?

Exactly what he had been afraid of doing since they arrived in this town. He'd betrayed his mate. He was bad –BEYOND bad, untrustworthy, dishonorable. Unworthy of Virginia.

Damn the moon! Damn it! He hadn't had a chance with that evil orb controlling him. A terrible curse, the full moon. He staggered towards the window, wanting to rail against it, to tell the moon exactly what he thought of it. The sky had finally cleared and faint moonlight was coming in through the gauzy curtains. He shoved the lace aside and looked up into the sky.

At the crescent moon.

He drew in a sharp breath.


Not a full moon?

But, but then, how...why--?

Wolf went cold. Not the full moon. Not under the moon's control. He'd deluded himself into blaming the moon, he'd wanted so to believe it. He'd done everything, EVERYTHING himself. For himself. Self. Selfish. Not because something else had MADE him do it, but because down deep inside himself he'd just WANTED to.

He sagged against the windowsill, groaning a little at the enormity of his delusion. Gigi turned a little, sighing, oblivious to the terrible reality of Wolf's betrayal. How could he explain this? How could he ever tell Virginia? How could he ever FACE her? How could he face either of them? He couldn't. Not ever. Suddenly a fragment of Snow White's rhyme came into his head, unbidden, not the phrase about the "captive soul" but another one. The one that explained why he'd come to Kissing Town. Now he understood. Now it was too late.

A struggle to be won

A struggle with...himself?

If so, he'd lost the struggle, lost the battle. Forfeited his word, his honor. Betrayed his true love.

And he had nothing to blame but himself.

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