Read Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark Online
Authors: Donna Lea Simpson
Copyright © 2009 by Donna Lea Simpson Cover and internal design © 2009 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Simpson, Donna.
Lady Anne and the howl in the dark / Donna Lea Simpson.
1. Nobility—England—Fiction. 2. Country life—England—Fiction. 3. Werewolves—Fiction. 4. Yorkshire (England)—Fiction. I. Title.
Lady Anne and the Ghost’s Revenge
She was the most infuriating woman…
She licked her lips and gazed up at him, and really, he thought suddenly, for a plain woman her eyes were ridiculously fine—brilliant though they were gray, almost silver in color, and fringed with long dark lashes. Dew clung to her skin, giving it the sheen of nacre, and her pink tongue, darting out to wet her trembling lips, was a silly little enticement. Irritation waged war with rationality, but irritation won. He could not turn her over his knee to teach her to mind her own business, so… he grabbed her around the waist, hauled her into his embrace, and bent her backwards with a hasty and impetuous kiss certain to silence—and possibly confuse—her. A servant who had approached at their entry gasped and backed out of the hallway.
But it did not daunt her. The moment he released her, she slapped him. Hard. The sound echoed to the upper reaches of the third floor. “How dare you, sir?”
He planted his hands on his hips and laughed out loud…
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 Bestwick—Miss Lydia Moore before marriage to Lord John Bestwick, younger brother of the Marquess of Darkefell—was 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
the words… something
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 was—she had left London only the day before at four in the afternoon, and already she was in Yorkshire—but 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.
Lady Anne was left gaping in confusion in the twilight on the side of the lonely highway. It took a full thirty seconds for outrage to boil up in her heart. She strode to the door and pounded. “Is this how you treat your paying passengers, sir?”
“I demand assistance!” she shouted, pounding again on the thick plank door.
“Not an inn, madam, not an inn!” his voice sang out from within.
“I don’t want to
here, I want to
Befuddled by the resolute lack of response, queasy from the journey, and exhausted beyond calculation, Lady Anne shouted, “I shall have the local magistrate down upon you, sir, and if there is no crime with which to charge you, I shall invent something. I have absolutely no sense of fairness where I have been injured.”
The only response to that was a rustling sound. A folded slip appeared from under the door, visible in the faint fan of light from the lantern above the door in the gathering gloom. One final little push, and the paper popped out and wafted in the breeze. She picked it up and held it toward the light.
It was a crude map on a dirty scrap of paper. She could just make out a road indicated, with what looked like rocky hillsides, a vague sketch of something labeled “
” and the plea “GO.”
“Go?” she shrieked, turning back toward the closed door. “Do you expect me to walk? It’s almost dark!”
But did she have any choice? She gazed around, a chill racing down her back at the lonely desolation of this spot, a crossroads. Rocky hills tumbled upward away from the highway, which was now just a dark stretch of winding road that dwindled in the distance. Stunted trees near the post-house huddled in stygian shadows, and shutters blotted out any light from the interior fire and lamps.
She pounded on the door again. “Do you have a carriage I could hire?” No answer. “Or a cart? Or even a horse?”
Still no answer. She looked at the crude map again, holding it slanted to the light, and then gazed around her. It appeared that the road indicated was the one that ran at a 90 degree angle from the highway, just beyond the post-house. It had a definite slope, but a lady as fit as she could manage it. She was going to have to walk. Perhaps the carriage to pick her up was on its way; if she started walking, she would meet it.
However, she could not possibly carry her portmanteaux, which held everything she would need until her trunks arrived. She dragged them over to the cottage and hammered on the door again. She could hear him scuttling around inside. “Listen to me!” she said, loudly. “I’m going away. I ask only that you look after my bags until I can come back for them on the morrow.”
Nothing. But he was on the other side of the door; she could hear him wheezing. Snuffling little badger of a man! She hammered on the door again with even more vigor. “Sir, I will
go away until I have some affirmation that you will take care of them for me! I’ll stay here and pound and call out until—”
The door swung open, and one stubby hand was stuck out; she looped the leather straps of her portmanteaux over the hand, and he hauled them into his burrow. She then settled her plumed bonnet on her head, lifted her skirts, and started up the sloping byway, feeling a trickle of trepidation in her stomach. It was getting dark, and she had to pick her way carefully. “This is not how one treats a guest,” she exclaimed aloud, in part to ward off a lingering childish fear of the dark. “If I turn my ankle, I shall be most put out.”
As he strode from the twilight coolness of the outdoors into the great hall of Ivy Lodge, dower house of Darkefell Castle, the Marquess of Darkefell briefly considered how feminine a place it had become under the influence of his mother,
feminine, with light-paneled walls, flowered paper, and soft carpets everywhere but the entrance. He glanced around as he entered; no Andrew in sight. The head footman should be immediately there to see to his needs, but the place felt oddly deserted.
He poked his head into the door of the formal drawing room, immediately off the great hall. Ah, only his sister-in-law, Lydia, reclined within; it was no wonder the place felt deserted. She would have to do, though, in the absence of an intelligent servant. “Where is the marchioness this evening?” he inquired.
Lydia rested on a sofa near the fire. Wide-eyed, she stared at him through the dimness and shook her head.
“Then where is John?” he asked, naming his younger brother, her husband of four months.
She shook her head again.
He closed his eyes and counted, containing his irritation against his sister-in-law’s overwhelming uselessness. Vapid, but wellborn, Lydia had been fortunate that intelligence did not rate as an important quality in a wife among most men, and certainly not for his brother.
would have throttled her after a se’nnight, but then he was not John. Her loveliness had quite faded from his sight, while her idiocy remained painfully evident. Having reached a count of thirty, the number required before he could civilly address Lydia again, he opened his eyes. “Think! Where is John? I have something of import to discuss with him, and Mother, too. Osei follows after a time with some papers that I need John to glance at after we speak.”
“I don’t know, my lord,” she said, her voice faint. “I have been most cruelly deserted tonight, and—”
“Then I shall send John to you once I find him and we’ve spoken,” he said, wheeling and exiting. Pausing for a moment in the great hall to collect his thoughts, he heard a sound that crawled up his spine; that damnable howling again, piercing even the thick walls of Ivy Lodge! He stood, undecided, then strode down a hall toward the housekeeper’s private domain. Mrs. Hailey was more likely than anyone else to know where his mother or brother were.
As Anne walked, the darkness gradually became more profound, progressing from charcoal murk to pitch blackness. Trees overhung the road, and newly sprouted leaves whispered in a strengthening breeze; despite the steady scuffle of her footsteps, Anne heard the faint rustle of animals in the bushes that encroached onto the narrowing road. On the wind the mingled scents of smoke from hearth fires and the green aroma of growing things drifted. Her pace slowed and became uncertain as darkness closed in. It occurred to her for the first time that she had only the badger’s word for it that this
the road to Darkefell Castle. Surely, if it was, she should be there by now? Lydia claimed in her letter that the castle was only a mile from Staunby. She had gone that and more. But why would the fellow at the post-house lie?
Clouds had closed in as the breeze sprang up, but now a faint silvery glimmer displayed the cloud shapes and then broke through, the rising half moon lighting the landscape in tones of gray—dove, charcoal, slate, and smoke. The road ahead rose, misty, ahead of her, so she gathered her courage and strode onwards, upwards, grateful for the faint glow of moonlight. At least walking would keep her warm. After another half mile the night noises ceased, and the only sound was her sturdy traveling shoes scuffing the hard-packed road surface. It was silent until a howl cut the hush; the eerie blade of sound sliced through the night, a preternatural wail that crept up her back and caused the skin on her arms and neck to pimple in shivery waves under her cloak and shawl.
“I am not afraid,” she said aloud, her voice strong and steady.
The baying echoed again through the night, and Anne forced herself to walk on more quickly. Dogs—the howling must be dogs, for there was no other rational explanation. Dark shapes loomed some distance ahead—shadowy, blocky squares that were likely buildings, and black masses that might be trees.The surface under her feet had changed, subtly. Was she still on the roadway or lane or whatever it was? Her pace slowed, and her foot caught on a tuft of grass; she stumbled, then righted herself, stopping to try to get her bearings. It was too dark, but some of the shapes did appear to be square, and she thought she could see a glimmer of light in the distance.
Beyond the other shapes it appeared that a tower pointed to the heavens, blotting out the shred of moonlight she had been depending upon for courage. The square shapes ahead
be the buildings of Darkefell Castle or Ivy Lodge, she cared not which, but even if they were farm buildings, she would cast herself upon a farmer’s mercy and sleep by his hearth until morning. She crept forward, hoping that a faint glimmer of what looked like a lantern was not an illusion brought about by her exhaustion. She was on grass now, and dew dragged at her cloak and skirts, coated her stockings, and even seeped through the sturdy leather of her shoes.
Another howl, an eerie sound like a blend of human voice and animal clamor, tore though the night, and she hastened her step, calling out, “Hello… is anyone there?” She staggered down a bit of a hill. “Hello? I fear I’m lost! Hellooo!”
The only answer was a scream—a sharp shriek of fear or pain, Anne thought, and then silence. Utter, dead silence. Trembling, she stopped, hearing only the blood pounding in her ears and the ragged gasp of her breath. Her eyes wide, she stared into the night, waiting. As her heart calmed, she could hear a rustling sound, then footsteps retreating, a wheezing breath sighing on the stiffening breeze. She staggered into motion again, heading in the direction of the scream. It had been a woman’s cry, of that she was sure. Whoever made that sound was in dire need of assistance.
She lurched into longer grass, wet, tangled, and dew laden from the heavy mist of evening. Drifting on the night air was a sound.
What was that? A moan of pain? Oh, no!
The landscape was hilly, and Anne tumbled to the ground, turning her ankle and wrenching her shoulder. But she staggered to her feet, gathered up her cloak and skirts, and stumbled on toward the sound. The moaning was faint now, as if the woman was giving up the ghost.