Excerpt from Chapter One
What was it about Lydia's letter that worried Anne so deeply?
Lady Anne Addison clung to a handle on the interior wall of the Royal Mail coach as they jounced along a Yorkshire highway in the fading twilight, and thought about the letter that had sent her scurrying north. Lady John BestwickMiss Lydia Moore before marriage to Lord John Bestwick, younger brother of the Marquess of Darkefellwas desperately unhappy. As charming as Lord John had been prior to their marriage four months before, now he was horrible and left her alone for hours with her mother-in-law, who despised her, Lydia claimed in her latest letter to Anne. She hinted at worse; her husband had faults she hadn't known of when she said her vows. Anne wondered what those faults could be. She feared the worst, abuse or perversion, and would let her dear friend Lydia, who hadn't sufficient strength of character to assert her own will, suffer from neither.
With a long knowledge of Lydia's tendency to dramatize herself and her sufferings, (Anne had once been engaged to Lydia's beloved brother, though poor Reginald had died in a military engagement), Anne would not necessarily have given credence to those afflictions, but something in the letter made her uneasy. It was, she thought, something between the words… something underlying the sentences. Lydia truly was desperately afraid, but it was impossible to discover the source of her fear without direct questioning, which could not be done by letter.
Still, Anne would have used her own carriage and driver, a slower but more comfortable way to travel all the way to Yorkshire, but for Lydia's horrified assertion that a werewolf haunted the Darkefell estate grounds at night. During the full moon, the beast had been witnessed standing on two legs and speaking English.
Utter tripe, Anne reflected, primming her mouth and staring out through the carriage window at the wild, rocky landscape. Fairy tales told to frighten little children into behaving. But still… she was intrigued, the fantastical tale slicing through the tedium of days that had become a little humdrum of late.
The full moon was just days away. The letter had been bleak and despairing enough that Anne had set out immediately, committing her safety, if not her comfort, to the Royal Mail. So she hurtled along this northern road using the latest madness in travel, the swift but jarring Royal Mail run. Fast it wasshe had left London only the day before at four in the afternoon, and already she was in Yorkshirebut exceedingly uncomfortable, too.
The slanting rays of sunset poured through the glass and directly into her eyes as they bumped over every rut in the indifferent road. Wedged in by her seat companion, an enormous, snoring woman, she could not reach over to draw the curtain. Ill with fatigue and trying to quell her nausea, Anne took a deep breath and regretted it immediately. The snoring woman reeked of heavy perfume, the stinking scent battling the fetid aroma of body dirt, the flatulent eruptions from the sleeping gentleman opposite her, and the stench of sour milk from the slumbering child next to him.
They could not arrive at Staunby, her destination, quickly enough for her. Her maid, Mary, and her trunks would follow, but she would be on the scene, at least, before the full moon.
The clarion call of the post horn indicated either an inn or a tollgate was imminent; Anne fervently prayed it was the post-house at Staunby. It was, and with blinding swiftness, Lady Anne and her portmanteaux were deposited with less consideration than the bag of mail, to stand bewildered and disoriented near the post-house door.
"I beg your pardon," she said politely to the rotund little fellow who was lugging the heavy canvas mail bag toward the post-house. "Is there a carriage to meet me?"
"Carriage, miss?" the postal employee absently asked, blinking at her and scratching his behind. The post-house was a small cottage just a few yards from him, within ames ace; the interior, visible through the open door, was warmly lit with inviting lamplight. He shrugged, then turned away and continued pulling.
"My name is Lady Anne Addison," Anne said through gritted teeth, following him, "and I believe my friend, Lady John Bestwick, has arranged transport for me to Darkefell Castle. Where is my carriage?"
"Darkefell Castle?" With a swift burst of strength, he hauled the mailbag up over his shoulder and scuttled into the post-house, slamming the door shut. There followed the unmistakable sound of the bolt being shot.