Authors: Donna Lea Simpson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Cozy, #Historical, #Supernatural, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #werewolf, #paranormal romance, #cozy series, #Lady Anne, #Britain, #gothic romance
Books in the Lady Anne Mystery Series
by Donna Lea Simpson
Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark
Revenge of the Barbary Ghost
Curse of the Gypsy
Curse of the Gypsy
A LADY ANNE MYSTERY
Donna Lea Simpson
Beyond the Page Books
are published by
Beyond the Page Publishing
Copyright © 2012 by Donna Lea Simpson
Material excerpted from
A Deadly Grind
copyright © 2012 by Donna Lea Simpson
Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs
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Bill and Jessica,
Thank you for all your invaluable help
in bringing Lady Anne’s
continuing story to my readers.
I couldn’t have done it without you!
“Hit me again, Osei,” the Marquess of Darkefell roared, his fists raised, his biceps bulging. “I dare you!”
Osei Boatin, stripped to the waist, dark skin glittering with sweat in the brilliant Yorkshire sunshine, circled his employer in the dusty stable yard behind Darkefell Castle. A ring of jeering, cheering, catcalling grooms and gardeners stood around them, betting on the outcome, the odds favoring the marquess at more than two to one.
But Darkefell, crouched and still feeling the sting of a well-placed blow, carefully watched Osei. The younger man was thin, but not without strength and skill. The marquess was much stronger, though, and would not be taken off guard again. “C’mon, Osei, come at me again,” Darkefell growled. He needed this battering, bruising fight, needed the excuse to beat someone. When his secretary showed no sign of attacking, he launched himself at the slighter man, taking him down to the ground; they tussled in the dirt, wrestling, grunting, sweating until dust clung to every muscle and sinew.
Neither could gain a purchase on the bare skin of the other, their arms, dark and light twisted together, tangling and tugging, sweat and blood turning the grime to slippery muck. But no advancement was made until finally the younger, lighter-in-weight man caught the marquess off balance and put his arm over his employer’s head. Once so locked into place, Osei could not move an inch more, for Darkefell resisted and began the slow process of freeing himself. Every time he freed a limb, though, Osei would twist and recapture it.
Finally both men were exhausted and Darkefell hollered, “Enough!” He pulled Osei’s long slim fingers off his ankle and extricated himself from his secretary’s hold, then rolled away in the dust, moving smoothly to stand.
Osei stood, too, and dusted himself down, his ribs standing out in relief, barely covered by a mat of sinewy muscles. He scrubbed at his short-cropped hair, shaking the sandy grit out of it. “Is it any coincidence, my lord,” he said, accepting his spectacles from a groom, and placing them precisely, “that you ended the tussle just as I had you in a headlock?”
A horse in the stable whinnied, as if appreciating the jest.
“Don’t flatter yourself, my fine fellow. I was letting you gain confidence. I would have snapped any other man’s arm like a twig.” Darkefell flexed, shrugging the tension out of his thickly muscled shoulders. There was no doubt that what he said was true, though it did not answer whether he could have gotten out of the headlock by fair means, rather than foul. “But I have had enough of this for now. Tomorrow, same time,” he shouted over his shoulder as he grabbed his shirt from a nail on the stable door, pulled it on over his head, and flung himself away from the yard, striding toward the modern section of the castle.
Osei watched him go just as Mr. Posthumous Jones, the Darkefell Castle estate steward, rode into the stable yard on his gentle bay mare. The fellow slipped down from his saddle, clutching a fist full of letters, and joined Osei, both men watching the marquess stride away. “He’s not yet recovered from his disappointment with Lady Anne, has he?” the steward said.
“No,” Osei replied, turning to Jones, a paunchy but neatly dressed man. “He is deeply angered over the rejection, if that is what happened in their last meeting. He will not speak of what she said, but I know he expected to have her agreement to wed him before he left Cornwall. It has been two weeks and he is still incensed.”
“She must have said no, then, surely?”
“I suppose. However, I know the lady; she is not indifferent to him, but he must be patient with her.” Osei pondered it a moment, then went on, as a groom led the steward’s bay away to the stable: “Patience is not an attribute the marquess has cultivated, nor has he had any need of it before now. Given how reluctantly he surrendered his heart to the maiden, I think it will be much time before he feels he has it back. He is not one to give it lightly.”
“Not like his brothers,” Mr. Jones said. “His lordship has always been particular. I wish I had met the lady. One so extraordinary as to capture the interest of a man like the marquess … well, I’ve never met her so I cannot comment. But she must be something quite out of the ordinary.”
“She is. I have never met the like of Lady Anne Addison.” Osei pulled a dusty shirt over his head and turned to go as the grooms and stablemen scattered back to their chores. As there had been no clear winner in the fight, the money wagered had been merely returned to each bettor with some jocular comments as to which man would have won, had they continued.
“I have some letters, Boatin,” Jones said, trotting alongside the taller man. “Just delivered two of the same to Lady Darkefell and Lady John.” The fellow’s curiosity had been piqued, it was clear. “One of the letters is to you and one is to his lordship. All the same hand, from the lady herself, I suspect, the one we just spoke of, for they come from Harecross Hall, Kent. That is the lady’s family seat, is it not?”
Osei took his letter and looked it over, the exquisite hand, the slanted letters, the full address given him, Mr. Osei Boatin, Secretary to his Lordship, the Marquess of Darkefell. The other letter was addressed to his lordship in the same hand, as Mr. Jones had noted.
He paused, broke the wax seal and unfolded his letter, then felt a blow to his stomach much like one the marquess himself might have landed, as he quickly scanned the contents. If the dowager marchioness Lady Darkefell had received the same letter, then Osei must immediately prepare his lordship for a visit from his mother.
Ah, but it was too late to give a warning. He turned, alerted by the thudding of hooves to the arrival of Lady Sophia Darkefell, still beautiful, though turning fifty that very year. She galloped into the yard on her seldom-ridden mare. Men rushed forward to help her down, but she slipped easily from her sidesaddle, shook out her full skirts and stomped over to Osei, shaking a paper in his face. “You will tell me what this letter is about, or I will know the reason why. No, disregard that,” she said, waving him away, though he had not begun to answer. “My son will respond. And if I find … if … if you have all been keeping things from me …” She tossed her head, whirled away from Osei and strode up to the servants’ door, flinging it open and entering.
Mr. Jones watched her go and whistled. “His lordship seems to ’ave an unhappy mother on his hands, and I know how little he likes that.”
Osei said a hasty good-bye to the steward and bolted to the same door, pursuing her ladyship down the long dim hallway, past the stillroom and buttery, the housekeeper’s office and toward the family’s section of the castle, calling out to her to wait. But it was too late. She was already ascending the three flights of stairs to her son’s bedchamber. Osei followed, trying to make himself presentable as he trotted, with his limping gait.
Darkefell, in his dressing room, had stripped and was washing while Harwood, his reserved valet, readied the proper clothes for an afternoon spent riding, the marquess’s intended pursuit. He stared at his face in the cheval mirror and dabbed at a scrape on his chin where he had met the ground, his face planted there by Osei’s determination. Staring into his own brown eyes, he saw the anger and bafflement that still plagued him. What was wrong with him? He could not seem to settle to anything since returning to Yorkshire from Cornwall after his dismissal—he could think of nothing else to call it—from Lady Anne’s presence. To be refused a lady’s hand, to have his offer rebuffed in such a brisk manner still stung, and he had taken to finding ways to sate his hunger for violence. Thus the bout of pugilism with Osei, the only man at Darkefell Castle accomplished enough at proper boxing and wrestling to match him.
Anne wanted him to await her answer like some kind of trembling poetical youth, a stripling to be kept waiting a lady’s favor. After all they had shared, she could treat him so? He was angry and humiliated, and yet he still wanted her so very badly that he disgusted himself.
He heard a commotion in the hall as he pulled a snowy shirt over his head. “What the devil is that? Go see, would you, Harwood?”
But the racket approached, and before his valet could obey, his mother burst in on him. She had not been in the room for … well, not since it was her late husband’s dressing room.