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
“Florrie, get down!” Anne cried and ran toward her. Another shot rang out as Anne ran, and Florrie screamed. She caught the young woman to her and helped her sink down, then slink into the cover of one of the bender tents, humped structures made of arched hazel withies covered in a canvas tarpaulin. “What was that?” Anne said with a gasp, the result of her quick movement and stays that were too constricting.
But the gypsy woman trembled and shook her head, sheltering the child she held clutched to her. Minutes passed with not another shot. Anne’s shoulder throbbed where the shot had grazed her, but the blood flow was already slowing. She released Florrie and said, “Whoever it was appears to have gone. I’m going to send men down from the Hall to search the woods, so you must tell the others not to be alarmed when they see our men; we will take care of this. Do you hear me?”
Florrie nodded and stood, cautiously, peering around the edge of the bender tent. “Lady,” she said softly, holding the baby near her swollen belly, “maybe it was one of the people from town. They hate us, they say we are evil. Maybe they want to kill us?”
Anne straightened, too, fighting off the light-headedness brought on by the experience, and looked around. The other gypsy women were huddled together in a sheltered spot, but there was no movement in the woods. “No one from Hareham would dare shoot at me, though, Florrie. This must have been a poacher’s shots, or … or something else. I don’t know. But I will find out!”
After being lifted to a divan near the fire in Darkefell’s dressing room, the dowager marchioness rapidly recovered from her faint. Her humor was no better than in the moments before her collapse, nor was she in a mood to be dismissed without an explanation. But while she was being fussed over by the marquess’s female servants, who had brought smelling salts, a basin of water and a glass of brandy, Darkefell at least had a chance to read Anne’s accusatory letter. She explicitly said that she had seen him at a gypsy camp on her family’s estate in Kent. What was he doing there? And why did he run when she called his name? she demanded to know.
If her vision and her sense were as acute as always—he had reason to believe both perfectly trustworthy—then it must be Julius she had seen and mistaken for him. But why was he there?
His elbows propped on his knees, Darkefell stared down at the letter and traced Anne’s signature with one finger. He had done his best to ignore the pain in his heart, hoping he’d recover, but it wasn’t going to happen. He loved her still, perhaps even more deeply for the time apart, and he would keep on adoring Lady Anne Addison, the most contrary, independent, and frustrating woman he had ever had the misfortune to meet. Love had weakened him, he sourly reflected. He had always valued his liberty, but now his sovereign was a cantankerous, plain spinster, too intelligent to intimidate and too independent to dominate.
But enough about Anne. Someone who looked like him was seen in her woods, and it had to be Julius. If Julius was wandering around in Kent, attracting attention, it was no small concern. Pomfroy, Darkefell’s idiotic magistrate, becoming less governable by the day, remained convinced that Lord Julius had been guilty of Tilly Landers’s murder. Darkefell had argued the case from every perspective, explaining that after the anonymous letter claimed that Lord Darkefell had been seen with Miss Landers at the Staungill Force waterfall, Julius had been horrified, and so had come forth, claiming it was he, not his twin brother, the anonymous witness had seen.
It was such an unnecessary invention. The supposed “witness” was lying, and an anonymous note would never have been enough to convict Darkefell of Tilly’s murder, given his rank and reputation.
someone had written the note was a mystery still; perhaps that person was himself responsible for the death of the licentious young woman. He had not killed her, nor had Julius. Darkefell still believed Tilly was up at the cave above the falls to meet a lover, and accidentally fell. The only alternative was that someone else had pushed her to her death. He folded Anne’s letter and tucked it inside his shirt, close to his heart.
The marchioness finally managed to dismiss the housekeeper and shoo away the other maidservant, as well as banishing even Osei, though that fellow knew as much as the marquess. “Tony, tell me what is going on,” his mother demanded, sitting bolt upright on the divan.
“Julius is alive, Mother,” he said. Now that her swoon was over, she had resumed her habitual stoic habit. He sat back in his chair, watching her face.
“Alive!” Tears welled up in her eyes and she looked old beyond her years, suddenly gray and tired, when in her passionate anger she had appeared vividly younger. Her mouth tightened, showing wrinkles around the lips. Her voice trembled as she said, “Will you deign to tell me why you both saw fit to deprive me of a son for almost two years? Are my feelings not to be considered in any of this? Am I not trusted?” Her voice broke on the last word, an unusual sign of vulnerability.
“I didn’t lie to you … at least, not at first. When we were told Julius died in Upper Canada, I was as deceived as you. I thought him dead, my twin, my other half.” Darkefell stared toward a tall, graceful window, the midday sun gleaming beyond it. He moodily kicked his feet out, then crossed his booted ankles. “And yet, if I had just trusted myself, my deepest sense, I knew he was alive. But what could I say to you?” he asked, turning to stare at his mother. “When every report had him dead and buried in the wild, what could I say?” he asked. One hand over his heart, he continued, “Was I to say, ‘
I know Julius is not dead, for that part within me wherein he dwells is still alive
’? It made no sense. I don’t believe in such superstitious trash, even though I felt it.” He shook his head and looked back toward the window, grimly repeating, “I
it. I can’t explain that.”
“When did you learn differently?” Lady Darkefell said, her tone frigid. “When did you
he was alive?”
Darkefell told her then, about how several months before, as the wild tales of werewolf sightings began on Darkefell estate, he saw from a distance a wild dog roaming the hills. He went to the hermit, Eddy Carter’s hut, thinking that the man’s indigent and occasionally unlawful son Neddy was back, with his mastiff, Bull. But his son was not the man Eddy was concealing, it was Julius.
It was a joyful moment he would never forget, face-to-face with his brother, his twin, back from the dead. As angry as he was that Julius hadn’t come to him immediately, he understood, and would have done the same thing. Under suspicion of murder, Julius didn’t want to drag his brother into it, as much as he longed for home and his family. The magnetic lure of Darkefell had pulled him home, but Julius still could not bring himself to endanger his loved ones by entering the castle or Ivy Lodge, his mother’s home on the estate.
They finally decided they would tell Lady Darkefell that Julius was alive and back, but then Miss Fanny Allengate died,
up at Staungill Falls. Another unexplained death; it seemed they were cursed by awful occurrences, doomed to be plagued by increasingly dark rumors and the deaths of innocent females.
If Julius had been acknowledged to be home, with his pet, the wolf-dog mixed breed he called Atim, then Fanny’s demise would surely have been blamed on him, as would the supposed werewolf sightings. He would be hanged before anything could be said to the contrary, and how could Darkefell do aught to protect him, when his brother’s timing was so spectacularly bad and his behavior so suspicious?
“I would not let him be taken, Mother,” Darkefell said, glaring over at her from under his thick brows. “That is why I told no one, no one but Osei, anyway, and John, that he was here.”
Her eyes were glittering with moisture. “Mr. Boatin was to be trusted, but not I, Julius’s
. I see. He has been here, so close, but I was not allowed to see him, nor to hold my most precious child? Why would you do such a thing to me?” She swallowed and cleared her throat, choking back her emotion.
“He wanted to see you. He begged to be allowed, but it was I who refused to allow it after poor Fanny’s death. Blame
Her tone tart, she said, “I do blame you!”
“I thought you would prefer to forgo the ecstasy of reunion,” he said, with a sarcastic edge to his voice, “for the more valuable benefit of having him cleared of any wrongdoing.”
“How could you think I would endanger him? By speaking with him? By hugging him to my heart?”
“No, my lady, but you have an unfortunate habit of speaking to your maid, Therese. As trustworthy as she is, I still could not risk it. I will not imperil Julius, not even for you.”
“And so after that awful night,” the marchioness said, “when Hiram died and I must suppose Julius disappeared, you just left Darkefell Castle, to follow that poison-faced spinster Lady Anne to Cornwall for a fortnight? Was that what you owed to your mother and your twin?”
He had no answer. How could he explain it? Hiram Grover was dead he had
. Julius had disappeared; Julius was always feckless and a wanderer. It had seemed just another freak on his brother’s part. “I had an obligation to go to Theophilus Grover, to tell him of his father’s fate.”
“Theo, yes,” she acknowledged, nodding. “I know you had to tell him about his father, but there was no reason to follow Lady Anne to Cornwall. None at all.”
She saw no merit in Lady Anne Addison and he would not attempt to justify his behavior to anyone, even his mother. The tormented love he felt for Anne was still a raw, new emotion, but that was not the kind of thing he could tell his mother.
Darkefell shrugged. “Julius had talked about going back to Upper Canada. I thought maybe he had done so without telling anyone. What good would it do to tell you that Julius
He pondered Lady Anne’s missive. It was almost identical to his mother’s letter and the one Osei had received. If the letters meant what he thought and Julius had headed toward Kent, that brought back the question once more: Why? What was he thinking?
“Still, none of that explains why you then went on to Cornwall,” Lady Darkefell said, sourly, “to involve yourself in more of Lady Anne’s nonsense.”
He didn’t answer. Two such ladies, both headstrong and independent, would never agree, though Lady Anne seemed unperturbed by Lady Darkefell’s dislike. His mother was no kinder to mild-as-milk Lydia than to acid-tongued Anne.
The current puzzle was too compelling to stray from. Why had Julius disappeared the very night of Hiram Grover’s “death,” only to show up in Kent? It was Julius who had stepped in when Hiram Grover attacked Anne, giving Tony enough time to come to her rescue ultimately. Julius and
, that is, for the wolf dog from the colonies, and the “wolf” seen by the spooked populace while rumors of a werewolf plagued Darkefell Castle, were one and the same. The man and animal together had had a part in rescuing Anne.
But the minute Hiram Grover disappeared over the waterfall, Julius had disappeared, too. Grover’s body had never been found. Was Hiram Grover alive? And had Julius followed him that night?
The only connection among Julius, Hiram Grover, and Kent was Anne. Anne, who had ferreted out enough information to prove that Grover had killed the poor maid, Cecilia Wainwright. Anne, whom Grover likely blamed for his ultimate downfall. If Grover had headed to Anne’s home in Kent and Julius had followed, that would explain everything.
He pushed up from the chair. “I’m going to Kent, Mother, to find Julius.”
“And so am I,” she said, rising.
“You must not!” he exclaimed, staring at her.
“I will,” she said. “I won’t be crossed again, Tony.
. I can be perfectly comfortable at our hunting lodge near Canterbury while we look for Julius.”
Hawk Park, the Darkefell hunting lodge, was just a few miles from Canterbury. “All right. We leave tomorrow, as soon as you can be ready.”
“Very good.” She swept gracefully toward the door, completely recovered from her swoon.
“Osei is coming with me. I have no better confidant than he, and he will act as my factotum again, as he did in Cornwall.”
She paused in the wide doorway and glared back at him, but then capitulated gracefully, despite her unfortunate dislike of Osei. “I will be bringing Therese with me.”
He nodded. Therese could be bribed to be closemouthed, for she understood money more than any other language. “I will be seeing Lady Anne.”
“I know,” his mother said, her chin going up in haughty disdain.
Mary was horrified when Anne met her at the edge of the arboretum woods and she heard what had happened and saw Anne’s ripped gown and bloody shoulder. Mary had waited there with Robbie, wondering why Anne had not immediately followed. They rushed back to the Hall together, where Mary banished her son to their room; he would do sums for the rest of the day. Anne then asked Epping, the Harecross Hall butler, to send for Mr. Destry, her father’s land steward, and have him attend them in her father’s library.
Anne sat impatiently while Mary bandaged her shoulder.
“It’s a fearful long slice, milady.”
“But it’s not deep, Mary; don’t fuss. I’ve hurt myself worse playing battledore and shuttlecocks with Jamey. I need to see my father before Mr. Destry arrives.”
“Aye, well, that man is slower than a miser on tithing day, so you’ve plenty of time. Stop squirming and let me do this proper.” She made a sound between her teeth. “Milady, who would shoot a gun near ye? It’s the Lord’s own miracle you weren’t hurt worse!”
“It has to be a poacher,” Anne rejoined, but then shut her mouth. Why would a poacher be loitering near a gypsy camp using a gun? Poachers limited themselves to snares and would not even set those near a gypsy camp for fear of alerting others to their depredations.
Once her maid had patched her shoulder and helped her dress, Anne strolled down the carpeted hall past the gallery to her father’s library door. She pushed it open. “Papa?” she said as she entered.