Authors: Jennifer Leeland
Wolf of Arundale Hall
Lady Elizabeth Arundale has been alone for ten years—or worse than alone. Her husband left for Jamaica soon after their wedding night, leaving her responsible for his catty, high-maintenance cousin and his wastrel brother. Elizabeth knows the secret that caused her husband to flee—when his passions are roused, he turns into a ravening Beast.
Lord Joshua has no choice but to return to Arundale Hall when his man of business tells him there has been a murder on the estate—a murder that bears all the hallmarks of the Beast. He fears that his brother, too, may have inherited the curse. And he fears that he will be unable to control his deviant desires. The dark sexual practices that keep the Beast at bay. The unspeakable perversions he wished to spare his wife. The brutal bonding his inner animal is desperate to experience with its mate.
She couldn’t take any more. Lady Elizabeth Arundale, mistress of the great Arundale Hall, had reached the end of her tether. What would Melinda say if she decided to start screaming like a banshee?
would continue to talk.
“I have been frugal, Lizzy. Truly I have.” Melinda’s whine grated on Elizabeth’s last nerve. She hated being called ‘Lizzy’. The whining continued. “But Gerry’s tutor is so expensive and—”
“I have paid the tutor, Melinda,” Elizabeth said with resignation.
“I know, and I’m grateful, but Gerry needs a music teacher as well.” Melinda’s voice droned on and on until Elizabeth thought the buzz would make her insane.
It was always the same. Melinda using her son, a possible heir to Arundale Hall if Elizabeth remained childless and the two Arundale brothers died, to sponge more money from Joshua. Perry, the drunken younger brother of her absent husband, continued to scandalize the neighborhood with his exploits. And finally, they both continued to present their bills for Elizabeth to handle.
For ten years she had doled out advice, compassion and her husband’s money to these dependents she’d been left with. What else could she do? Joshua had asked nothing else of her, allowed her to spend money as she wished and continued to send large sums every month. The fact that he’d been gone for all these years with only business letters as communication only emphasized what she already knew.
Lord Joshua Arundale, Earl Arundale, had married his eighteen-year-old neighbor for one reason—to run his estate for him in his absence. And that she had done.
“So you’ll pay for the music teacher?” Melinda asked.
“Of course. Please don’t worry. I’ll make sure Gerry gets everything he needs.” But did Gerald Lanyard need music lessons? Elizabeth bit back a long sigh. Ever since she’d taken over the purse strings, Melinda had resented any input she might give on Gerald’s education or deportment.
Melinda threw her thin arms around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Thank you, Lizzy.”
Stop calling me Lizzy
. She wanted to shout at the woman, who was two years older than herself yet seemed unable to function independently. Widowed at twenty, Melinda had clung to Joshua, probably hoping he would marry her. After all, Melinda was granddaughter to old Charles Fitzwilliam Arundale, who had entailed the property, thus ensuring that one of his male descendants would inherit. Joshua, by marrying Melinda, could have kept the property in the family. But Joshua had married little Elizabeth Carrington, his childhood friend of many years, leaving Gerry, Melinda’s son, next in line following the only other male Arundale descendants, Joshua and Perry. A fact Melinda always emphasized to Elizabeth.
Finally Melinda left the small office Elizabeth used to conduct the business of the estate. The woman’s overpowering perfume faded and Elizabeth let out a sigh.
She loved this room. It was her only escape from Gerry’s sullenness, Melinda’s avarice and Perry’s lewdness. Here she kept and read every book she could get her hands on, and some she’d had to have someone else buy for her. Here she daydreamed that someday her husband would come home and finally make her his wife.
At twenty-eight she’d learned a few things since the early, innocent days of her marriage. She’d discovered that Joshua had behaved very strangely on their wedding night. She’d found out that a man usually wanted his wife more than once.
How stupid she’d been. When Joshua had thrust inside her, it hadn’t been awful or even painful. The blood hadn’t frightened her—she had been relieved to know her virginity had been breached. It had never occurred to her that Joshua spilling his seed on the sheets instead of inside her had been odd.
Then Joshua hadn’t touched her again in the three months before his ship had set sail for Jamaica.
After many years and many tears, Elizabeth had finally discovered why Joshua had behaved in that strange manner. She blinked and stared out of the large window in the south wall. Dark clouds menaced on the horizon and the trees were losing their leaves.
In the distance Arundale Moor stretched for miles, the beautiful wild flowers gone in anticipation of the coming winter. Out there the local residents said there was a wild animal, bigger than any natural beast. Long teeth that ripped and tore and yellow eyes that hypnotized helpless victims were some of the attributes given to this mythical creature.
Elizabeth wished the animal would crash through the window and rip out her throat. She glanced at the stack of bills and picked up the letter she’d composed to her absent husband.
I know that these petty details distress you, my lord, but I do not know what more I can do. I am at my wits’ end. Your brother has been gone for a fortnight and the gossip I have heard has not been to his credit. I cannot pay the bills with the amount you sent me this month. Please do not think I’ve been frivolous. I send an itemized account copied from my books for the last three months’ expenses.
I ask that you send me your suggestions on how to deal with the finances as they stand. I cannot deny your family what you have promised them, so it must come from the estate coffers. The land manager, Terrance Godkin, has informed me that we can no longer neglect the cottages in the north field, but I am afraid that if I spend the money to repair them there will be no money for the bills.
Of course, if you prefer to leave it in my hands, I understand.
Lady Elizabeth Arundale
There. None of the desperation she felt had made it into the letter. She folded it carefully and placed it in an envelope.
While she addressed it her mind wandered. As much as she loved Arundale, she did not know how much more she could take. Her sleep at nights was interrupted by Melinda’s crying fits and Perry’s drunken returns. Her days were spent soothing those who were irresponsible and completely incapable.
Once, when Gerry was five, he’d called Elizabeth “mother” and Melinda had sobbed and cried for three days. At nine Gerry had learned to deal with his mother’s vapors and now came to Elizabeth for common sense. No child should have to shoulder the burdens Gerry carried. His father dead and his mother clinging to him daily might have sent a weaker child into screaming fits. But Gerry was made of stronger fiber and Elizabeth was proud of him. But lately Gerry had been more difficult, inward. She had no idea how to draw him out of his self-imposed shell.
A knock sounded at the door.
“Come in,” she called.
Huggins approached the desk, a look of disapproval pinching his wrinkled face. “A…gentleman has come to see you, my lady.”
She raised one eyebrow. It must be one of Perry’s friends. “Send him in.”
The man whom Huggins escorted into her presence was typical of Perry’s acquaintances. He was young, reckless-looking and completely disheveled. He lacked the usual
attitude that Perry’s questionable connections had, but he clearly had too much money and too little responsibility.
“I’m sorry, but Perry is not at home,” she said with a forced smile.
The man bowed. “I’m aware of that, my lady. I’ve come to ask you to retrieve him.”
Her nostrils flared. “Did he send you?” Her tone was sharp.
He shook his head. “He did not, but…”
She waited. He didn’t continue. “But what?”
The stranger rubbed his face with his hand. “He is not sober enough to be where he is.”
Elizabeth tightened her lips. “A brothel?”
The man frowned. “Not quite.”
“Do you have an address?” She retrieved a sheet of paper and peered at the man.
“I can escort you.”
She clenched her fingers around the pen. There was no leering expression on the man’s face, but his belief that she would, without introduction, go anywhere with him made her seethe. “No thank you, sir. I prefer to deal with this in my own way. If you will give me the details I will take care of my brother-in-law.”
The man gave her the address and stared at her for a moment. “Will you go alone?”
She glared at him. “Do I appear to be foolish?”
When she stepped around the desk toward the door, the man’s gaze followed her. It made her uncomfortable and the hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up. She didn’t like this man at all. “Huggins,” she called. When her butler appeared, she gave him another note. “Take this to Mr. Jaimison. And will you escort our visitor out?”
She didn’t ask his name and didn’t shake his hand. Whatever reason he had for coming to Arundale Hall, Elizabeth doubted it was altruistic. For a moment, at the doorway, he stopped and met her gaze. She thought he might say more, but he only nodded and placed his hat on his head as he headed out of the front door. When he was gone she let out a long breath.
It wasn’t the first time she’d had to go and retrieve her brother-in-law. It was easier now that she understood why he drank.
An hour later Mr. Jaimison arrived at Arundale Hall. She’d hired Edward Jaimison for personal protection when she’d had to go to London eight years earlier. He and his men watched over her when she had to make these trips into the bowels of the countryside or London’s back streets in search of the younger Arundale male.
Jaimison bowed when he entered the den. “My lady.”
“Mr. Jaimison. I’m afraid we have another errand to run.” Elizabeth slid her gloves over her hands and studied her companion.
Jaimison was over six feet tall, with red hair that gleamed in the fading light. His light-blue eyes were sharp and attentive. Elizabeth trusted him implicitly. It had been Jaimison who’d made the veiled references to the secret of Arundale’s lords that had made her dig in the hall’s archives and history.
Though they’d never discussed it, she was sure Jaimison knew the horror that had driven Joshua to the new world and Perry to drink.
“Huggins said you had an address?”
Elizabeth handed him the paper and retrieved her reticule. “It will be night before we reach the estate.”
Jaimison’s lips tightened. “I’m familiar with the address. I would ask you to stay behind, but I know that’s fruitless.”
Elizabeth lifted her lips in a humorless smile. “Yes, it usually is.”
Once Jaimison had bluntly refused to allow her to accompany him to some seedy place and Elizabeth had followed anyway. From then on the man hadn’t questioned her.
It wasn’t something she could explain but Elizabeth had to be the one to approach Perry, to bring him home. Joshua had entrusted her with his family and she would discharge her duty, not turn it over to her agents. Jaimison had stopped arguing when he’d noted how Perry accompanied her without violence, a strange quirk none of them understood. Without her there, Perry fought viciously to remain in whatever dank hole he’d crawled into.
“After you, my lady,” Jaimison said softly.
Once in the carriage, she noted Jaimison had brought three men with him. All three were familiar to her. Big, muscular and confident, they stood between Elizabeth and anything that threatened her.
The carriage leaped and jerked, the horses speeding through the darkening countryside. Arundale Moor blurred in her window. God, she was so tired. These errands were exhausting.
It was late when they arrived at the specified address. A small estate in the next county, outwardly it resembled a pleasant house with large gardens and hedges. Elizabeth knew what awaited them within.
Jaimison helped her from the carriage and she strode up the steps to the front door, the men a solid wall at her side. The door opened and the light from within blinded her for a moment. An ancient butler stared at her and the men. “I’m afraid there is no one home, my lady.”