Authors: Rachel McNeely
The Marquis' Mystical Witch
Cursed and scarred, Ulric (Wulf) Hamlin, the Marquis of Radford, becomes a recluse after his wife’s death. When he returns to London, after five years, he meets Althea Beckett at his sister’s coming out ball. Used to seeing revulsion in women’s faces, Althea instead touches him and soothes his pain.
Wulf’s family curse causes him to shape shift into a werewolf at each full moon. But Althea and her sister have their own hidden powers. Wulf's family strongly encourages him to wed and produce an heir, and Althea faces a marriage with a repulsive man she fears.
Wulf and Althea agree to marry for their mutual benefit, but both keep their secrets to themselves. Wulf hopes to hide his family curse from Althea until he finds a cure, but she suspects something is not right. They must face their own demons, find a way to break the curse and trust enough to love.
Historical, Paranormal, Regency
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A SIREN-BOOKSTRAND TITLE
THE MARQUIS’ MYSTICAL WITCH
E-book ISBN: 1-60601-726-8
First E-book Publication: February 2010
Cover design by Jinger Heaston
All cover art and logo copyright © 2010 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
This book is dedicated to my sister, Joan.
Thank you for believing in this book and encouraging me.
And to Laura, for reminding me that even very difficult tasks can be accomplished one step at a time.
Copyright © 2010
Ulric Hamlin, the Marquis of Radford, rode through the rain-soaked countryside on his way to London. His scarred face ached. He had to put up with the bad weather, since he waited until the last possible moment before starting his trip. He’d promised his sister, Jane, to attend her coming-out ball and he tried to never disappoint her. For Jane he’d left his self-imposed seclusion at his estate and would face the curious stares of the Ton.
He missed his brother, Evan. His grief was still sharp from learning of Evan's death five months ago. Influenza had traveled through the countryside making many people sick and Evan was one of those who died.
Cold rain battered Ulric’s hat and blew across his face blurring his vision. He buttoned the collar of his greatcoat against the dampness that penetrated straight through his clothes and chilled his bones. The foul weather fit his mood. He wished for the hundredth time that he was home sitting beside his fireplace.
His spirits rose slightly on sighting the hunting lodge where his best friend, Jeffrey Collier, the Earl of Kenelm, spent the bulk of his time while in the country. He nudged his chestnut stallion, Batair, down the narrow track to the stables. Jeffrey’s groom met Ulric at the stable door and assured him he’d see to his horse. Ulric watched as the man led Batair away. Rain fell in sheets now. He hesitated, then pulled his hat lower and ran to the side door of the lodge, where the butler greeted him.
“Lord Radford, welcome to Blackwell Lodge. Let me take your wet coat and hat.” He handed Ulric’s dripping attire to a footman standing nearby. “Lord Kenelm is in his study.”
Ulric followed the butler down the hall and stopped at an open door. The warmth of the nearby fire and the smell of good tobacco greeted him. Jeffrey sat comfortably slumped in a chair by the fireplace, reading a book. Ulric smiled, the scars pulling at his cheek. Dressed in buckskin pantaloons and an open neck shirt, with his blond hair tousled, it was apparent his friend did not expect company. After announcing Ulric, the butler bowed out of the room.
“Welcome,” Jeffrey said, putting out his cheroot as he stood. “I didn’t think anyone would venture out today.”
“Only the foolhardy and the restless. I’m on my way to London.”
Jeffrey raised his eyebrows. “I’m surprised, but pleased.”
Ulric shrugged. “I promised Jane I’d be there for her first ball.”
“I suspected it had to be something vitally important to draw you back into society,” he said with a smile. “Sit.”
Walking to a small, round mahogany table, Jeffrey opened a decanter and poured brandy into two crystal glasses. Turning, his eyes met Ulric’s directly. “Now tell me what really brought you here.”
Ulric took his glass, lifted it toward his friend and tipped it back. The brandy left a fiery trail of warmth. He sat with his feet stretched out close to the fire, almost content.
“Evan's death has changed things,” Ulric said.
“There is no one else to be your heir, except a distant relative.” Jeffrey shrugged. “And now, I imagine your mother wants you to marry.”
"Yes, but I have no desire to have a son cursed too. I'd hoped the title going to the second born son would end our family's nightmare.” Ulric stared into his glass.
“It might not have worked. His first born might then have been affected.”
“We'll never know now. I miss him.” Tipping his glass up, Ulric emptied it.
“That is no way to treat good brandy, my friend.”
Ulric shrugged. “Mother's insistence that I wed and produce an heir is rather confusing, since she hates the wolf.” He rubbed the scarred side of his face.
“You’d be a good father.”
“We’re missing one important ingredient,” Ulric stood and began to pace around the room.
“A wife?” Jeffrey quirked an eyebrow at him.
“Yes. You know until this nightmare ends, I planned not to wed again.”
“Your father and grandfathers managed.”
Ulric stood by the fireplace, his right side turned toward the orange flames. The reflected heat soothed the aching scars. “They bought or used their influence to arrange marriages and stayed away on business frequently.” He laughed harshly. “And they didn’t have a face that repulsed women at the first glance and the nickname of Wulf. I have no desire for a wife who cares naught for me, but for my title and money and who is frightened by my appearance.” He hesitated. “But most of all, one I fear I could harm.” Wulf stared into the fire.
“You’ve never hurt anyone,” Jeffrey snapped.
“I came very close.” Wulf turned to face his friend. “You know what happened in the past. I’ve feared losing control ever since.”
Clenching his hands, Wulf stared back into the fire
Even now, the memory of that day remained crystal clear. The fire of anger coursing through his veins when he realized his wife, Clarisse, and one of his best friends, Thomas, had run away together. The blood lust raging through his body sent the wolf after them and the shock of finding the overturned carriage and his wife dead had stunned him. Wulf listened to the sound of the crackling flames, then slowly turned.
“When I found Thomas boarding a ship for Europe, even though I was back in human form, my animal instincts took over. If several men hadn’t pulled me away from him, he’d have been dead. It took hours for the blood lust to cool.”
“He deserved it after betraying you with Clarisse.” Jeffrey said bluntly. “But back to your present dilemma. Will you marry?”
Wulf frowned at his friend. “Could you chance having a child, knowing the firstborn son would become a werewolf on his sixteenth birthday?” He spit out the bitter words through his tight throat.
Jeffrey reached out and gripped Wulf’s shoulder. “Join me in a meal. Forget about your problems for tonight. You and I both know any decisions you need to make will still be there tomorrow.”
But Wulf knew he’d made the decision. The problem was where to find a
* * * *
Thea Beckett swung her basket of fresh picked apples by her side. She loved her home, and even if it wasn’t hers anymore, at least she still lived here. She had been trying very hard to be helpful to Uncle Rigby and his family since they moved in. It was difficult. She still mourned her parents’ deaths, but she endeavored to put on a good face for her sister, Elvie.
The tall, stiff butler greeted her at the door. “Miss Beckett, your uncle wishes to see you in his study.”
She missed Charles, their former butler, but Uncle Rigby had dismissed him and put his own man in place. “Thank you, Albert.” Thea handed him the basket of apples. “Please take those to the cook.” She hid a smile at the affronted look he gave her.
Turning down the left corridor, she went toward what had been her father’s study. Before tapping on the door, Thea removed her bonnet and smoothed back her hair. She glanced down at the front of her pink, wool gown. Although slightly wrinkled, it would have to do. Her uncle expected a prompt response to any request. Reluctantly, she knocked.
Thea stood hesitantly in the entrance. “You wished to see me, Uncle Rigby?”
“Yes, yes, come in, girl.” He looked up from his papers with his perpetual frown. “Sit.” He motioned to the caned beechwood chair in front of his large desk.
She nodded, sat and then glanced around the room. New nutty brown curtains hung closed at the windows. Her uncle didn’t like the bright light. She pulled her cape closer around her. Uncle Rigby also thought it wasteful to have a fire all day. His stern voice brought her attention back to him.