“We need a business model that isn’t so dependent on the moon,” Tess complained. She brushed a lock of strawberry-red hair away from her face and tossed a sheet over the clothesline. Five stretches of clothesline were strung from tree to tree and they were only on the second.
Her brother Trent caught the other side and spread the sheet out. “It could be worse. We could be dependent on the stars. Those things are fickle. At least the moon is consistent. Besides, I don’t see how a werewolf retreat could not be dependent on the moon. The whole point is to be here during the full moon.”
“All I’m saying is we need something to do in-between,” Tess said. “Nobody comes for at least a week after the full moon. Bruno, toss.”
Bruno, Tess’s German Shepherd, nosed another sheet under his head and tossed it at Tess. She caught it and strung it over the line. Tess bit her lip.“Never mind. I am sure I will think of something.” She picked up another sheet.
“You always do,” Trent said. “Although I think those people over there disprove your no-one-comes-after-the-full-moon theory.”
Tess turned. Two people approached the entrance building of the resort — the currently empty entrance building of the resort.
“Shoot.” Tess dropped the sheet and picked up her skirt. “Bruno heel!” She ran to meet the couple.
They had made it inside by the time Tess caught up with them. “Hi!” She slid to a stop. “Welcome to Full Moon Family. How can I help you?” She brushed off her skirt, only to be sent sprawling when Bruno barreled into her.
Strong hands caught Tess’s arms before she could hit the ground. “Oof!” He said. “Are you alright?”
“Yes. Thank — ” Tess looked up, only to realize she was looking at the face of Prince Philip of Paradine. “ — you?”
The prince helped her up. Tess’s face burned. “How can I help you, your highness?”
“The same way you help everyone, I would guess,” The prince smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. “We would like to stay until the next full moon. I have been bitten.”
“What?” Tess squeaked.
“We want to check-in.” The woman with the prince spoke slowly, like Tess was dumb. “This is the werewolf retreat, right? Will that be a problem?”
Tess’s shoulders fell when she looked at the woman. Lady Sophia, Philip’s fiance. She had almost forgotten Philip was engaged. “No problem at all! We would love to have you.”
Tess went behind the desk and pulled out her notebook, ignoring the way Lady Sophia was examining the building. Sure it wasn’t much. The room was basically a desk, two potted plants, and a rug, but Tess and Trent had built this business from the bottom up. It was miles better than it used to be.
Philip scratched Bruno’s head. Tess smiled at the sight.
“You’ll want two rooms, I assume?” She marked two rooms in the Cresent wing.
Sophia laughed. “That’s cute. Two suites, please.”
Tess paused, then crossed off the entire Cresent wing, mentally adding up all those rooms in her head. “And you’ll be here for…” How many days until the next full moon? “Twenty-five days?” The longest they had ever had anyone stay before was fifteen days.
“What’s wrong?” Philip asked.
“Nothing!” Tess said. “It’s just that people normally come closer to the full moon. You’ll have the entire place to yourself for a week or so!”
“It’s the only choice we have.” Sophia fluttered her eyelashes. “We simply cannot chance Philip’s condition spreading. I am risking my life remaining here to be with him.”
Tess blinked. “That’s not how — you know what? Nevermind. Please come this way. I will lead you to your rooms.”
She led them out of the greeting building towards the Crescent Wing, mentally running figures. An entire wing, for twenty-five days. They would probably want entertainment of some sort, so she added the cost of that to their total. And some for the extra food she would have to bring in. Then another fee for the amount of time she would have to spend catering to their every whim.
The amount of money this would bring in almost made her stumble. That wasn’t even counting the publicity they would get by having royalty stay.
This could be just what they needed.
Tess finally met back up with Trent while she was making dinner. There was flour on practically every surface and Tess was pretty sure the biscuits were burning in the oven but Trent didn’t seem to notice.
“So who came by earlier?” Trent sat on the counter and swung his legs.
“You seriously haven’t seen them?” Tess gave him an incredulous look. “Can you stir that pot next to you?”
“They are still here?” Trent grabbed a spoon and stared at the three pots over the fire. “I thought it was inspectors. Which pot?”
“All of them.” Tess opened the oven. Yep, the biscuits were burning. “It actually was some clients. They have reserved the Cresent Wing. The entire wing. Until the next full moon.”
“It’s Prince Philip and Lady Sophia.”
Trent dropped his spoon into the fire.
“Hey! Be careful!” Tess pulled the biscuits out of the oven. It wasn’t that bad. They’ll just be a little… crunchy.
“Prince Philip?” Trent said. “Like, the Prince Philip? The one you had a crush one since you were two? How are you even breathing right now?”
Tess blushed. “Yes, that one. And don’t you dare bring that up. He’s engaged.” She slid the biscuits into a basket.
Trent blinked and seemed to become aware of the mess in the kitchen. “Where’s Louis?”
“He is on vacation.” Tess reminded her brother. “But he will be back tomorrow, thankfully.” she sighed. “I don’t think I could keep this up. He is a much better cook than me. But — ” the last biscuit fell into the serving basket. “ — I think I am done. I just need to bring this out and then I can take a nap.”
“What about eating in the dining hall?” Trent said.
“What about it?” Tess looked up. “We don’t normally eat with the guests.”
“Normally, we have more than two guests,” Trent said. “It would be lonely in the dining hall if we didn’t eat with them. It’s so big. Come on Tess — ” he leaned against the counter and smirked. “You can’t tell me we should pass up the opportunity to literally dine with royalty.”
Tess looked at her dress. She took a breath. “Fine. But only if you finish getting the food ready. I need to change.”
“So what gave you the idea to start a werewolf resort?” Philip asked. The table was still full of food, but Tess was stuffed and she was pretty sure the others were too. This was why she let Louis do the cooking. He knew just how much food to prepare every night.
She glanced at Trent. Normally when someone asked that question he said, I’m sorry, but that’s part of my Tragic Backstory and you haven’t gotten enough friendship levels to unlock it, but you can’t say that to a prince!
Her brother glanced right back at her. Tess took a sip of her drink. “Our father was a werewolf,” she said. “We wished someone had told us what we could do to help him. It’s so easy and we just…” she shrugged. “Found out too late.”
“What do you do to cure a werewolf?” Sophia leaned forward, eyes glinting like she was going to learn a juicy secret. Which was strange, as Tess wasn’t sure how she had gotten this far without knowing that.
“You throw clothes at them,” Tess said.
Sophia blinked. “That’s it?”
“I mean, basically…”
“Well then what are we doing here?” Sophia said. “You can do that anywhere!”
“You can’t risk Prince Philip’s condition spreading,” Tess said with a straight face. Trent choked on his drink and she slapped him in the back without looking.
“Well.” Sophia didn’t seem to find this answer satisfactory. “I think I will go back to our rooms. Coming, darling?”
“I think I will stay out a bit longer.” Philip stretched. “Sleep well.”
“I doubt I will. Escort me.” Sophia ordered Trent.
Trent got up, but Tess could tell he was internally groaning. Tess and Philip watched them go, and suddenly Tess realized that she was alone. With the prince.
She jumped up, hitting the edge of the table. She reached for a plate and started stacking. After a moment Philip started helping her.
The prince was helping her clear the table. Tess pushed down a nervous giggle.
“We didn’t need to get here so early, did we?” The prince asked her in a low voice.
“No,” Tess admitted. “Most people come closer to the full moon.”
They worked in silence for a couple of minutes. Tess could see the money they had almost made start to drain away.
It wasn’t a total loss. If the prince returned before the full moon they would still get the publicity. They would still be better off than before. Tess glanced at the prince to see him smiling at her.
“What?” Her cheeks turned pink.
“Thank you for your honesty.” the prince said. “But I think Sophia doesn’t need to know about that fact. This is a good opportunity to get to know her better before the wedding.”
“When did you meet?” The personal question slipped out before Tess thought about it.
“Last month,” Philip said.
“Well, I knew I was marrying her before that. I had known I was marrying her for years. Arranged marriage and all that. She’s… a bit much.”
Tess nodded in agreement before she thought about it. Again.
Philip laughed. Her cheeks turned a full blooming red.
“Bruno!” She called. Bruno bounced into the dining hall. He sniffed under the table, searching for crumbs.
“This guy — ” Philip knelt and scratched Bruno’s ear. “ — is so friendly! Aren’t you boy?”
Bruno wagged his tail.
“Do you have any dogs?” Tess asked.
“My mother doesn’t like them.” Philip grimaced. “Otherwise I am sure I would have at least five.”
The prince was kind, handsome, and he loved dogs. Could there be a more perfect man?
“So I just… throw it at him?” Sophia held the shirt by the corner, like it was soaked in urine.
The month leading up to the full moon had been exhausting. Running back and forth between the royals and the other guests that arrived as the moon grew larger was way more running than Tess preferred. But it was worth it for the business it would bring. It was worth it just to get to know Philip. Plus, Bruno just loved him.
“Yep.” Tess sighed. “In a couple of minutes he will turn completely, you throw the shirt, he turns back. Boom, curse broken. True love breaks the spell.”
“True love?” Sophia asked. “What does that have to do with it?”
“You have to love the person who is a werewolf,” Tess said. She ignored the tightness in her stomach as she spoke. They were engaged. Of course, they were in love.
“Oh.” Sophia looked strangely lost at the thought.“But, um, what if he attacked me before I can throw it?”
“He is chained to the wall.” Tess gestured. “He can’t reach you.”
“It will be fine,” Philip said. He grinned, looking even more wolfish than usual. Over the past month, his hair had lengthed and grayed. The angles of his face sharpened and his limbs grew lean. Tess had seen it happen countless times on other faces, but for the prince’s handsome face to be changed like this was more disconcerting than usual.
“When will the moon go full?” Sophia whined. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“Any minute now.” Tess glanced at the sky. They were in the Shifting room of the Cresent wing. Trent was off on the Gibbous wing, supervising all the other guests that had come for the full moon. Bruno sat next to her. He growled, warning Tess that it was happening.
Philip howled. Sophia shrieked. Philip fell on all fours, a wolfish leer lending a wild glint to his eyes. He snapped at Sophia. She threw the shirt at him. It smacked the wolf in the face and fell to the ground.
“Did it work?” Sophia stared at the werewolf and scrambled away. “Why isn’t he changing back? Tess, do something! You throw a shirt!” She grabbed another shirt from the backup pile of clothing and shoved it into Tess’s hands.
“It’s not going to work for me either!” Tess threw the shirt at the werewolf.
It is hit his flank. Then… nothing.
Tess breathed out a sigh of relief. That would have been an awkward conversation.
“What are we going to do?” Sophia wailed.
“Bruno, toss.” Tess gave another shirt to Bruno and pointed at the wolf. Bruno nosed his way under the shirt and tossed it at the werewolf.
The werewolf snarled. His hair began receding and darkening. His limbs slipped back into their proper shape. A few seconds later and Philip was on the ground blinking at them.
“What happened?” he asked.
“That dog — it — it.” Sophia burst into tears.
Tess dropped beside Bruno. “Who's a good boy? You are!” She scratched his belly. He wagged his tail.
She glanced at the royal couple. “What? Bruno is a very loving boy. I never said the true love needed to be romantic.”