Imprisoned at Werewolf Keep (Werewolf Keep Trilogy), page 1
Werewolf Keep Trilogy
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. With the exception of historical events and people in the public domain, the names, characters and incidents portrayed in this work come wholly from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental
Cover image © Canstockphoto.com/yekophotostudio
Published by Belisama Press
© Nhys Glover 2013
The right of Nhys Glover to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
This book is copyright. All rights reserved.
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Lady Fidelia Montgomery cried deep, wracking tears into her dainty lace handkerchief. It was not nearly big enough to soak up the torrent pouring forth from her eyes and nose, but fashion had never been known for practicality. And truth be told, such a flood of tears was hardly a lady-like display, even in the privacy of her own sitting room. She hiccoughed and tried to regain control.
'Dee, I am so sorry. This is devastating news. Why didn’t you send word earlier? I would have come down immediately.' The new Mrs Philomena Carstairs offered up her own, slightly larger and less lacy, handkerchief to help stem the flow.
From the look on Phil’s face, it was clear she was fighting the urge to give her the big hug she most desperately needed. But upper-class Victorian society frowned on public displays of physical affection, even in circumstances like these. So she continued to sit across from Fidelia on the hard horsehair chaise lounge and plucked at the skirt of her beautiful, green day-dress that was quite the height of fashion.
Having come into substantial wealth after the death of her father, it was clear that Phil was using at least a little of that money on improving her appearance. Not that she needed beautiful clothes to make her beautiful. Phil had always been stunning, even in her threadbare apparel of recent times. But now she looked magnificent, even after the long train trip down from Yorkshire.
‘I didn’t want to disturb you. You have your new life and happiness. I didn’t want to upset that with my situation.’ She sniffed, trying to make the sound as dainty as possible.
‘You are such a goose! As if I would not want to be here for you when you have just become a widow. You are my best, and up until recently, my only true friend on earth. How could I not be here in your time of need?’
Fidelia smiled weakly and felt the tears finally subsiding. In the last few days she hadn’t been able to stop them, day or night. It was like a deep reservoir of grief had opened up inside her at the death of Howard and the loss of his two girls, and it was totally disproportionate to the mild affection she had felt for her little family. It was almost like she was grieving for her whole life rather than the loss of these people from it.
But that was absurd. Hers had been a gifted life. Born into wealth and influence, the pampered only child of affluent older members of the Ton, she had attended the best schools and coming out balls, had been offered for by the noblest of eligible men of the time, and had, for the next two and a half years, lived in this magnificent mansion in Hertfordshire where she did her best raising her husband’s two darling daughters from his previous marriage.
It was the kind of life others looked on with envy. And it had been hers until a week ago when Howard had fallen to his death, while riding to hounds. He’d only been forty-five years old.
‘I know you would have been here, darling Phil. I just did not want to disrupt your life so soon. If anyone deserves some happiness after so long without, it is you. I will recover. To be entirely honest, I have no idea where all these tears are coming from.’
‘How are the girls handling it?’
'Oh, well enough. You know them. As long as they have each other, all's right with the world. And Howard always kept his distance from them, so they did not really know him as a child should know a father...' A fresh torrent of tears broke forth and the new hanky was soon saturated.
'The Duchess has taken them,’ she finally admitted. ‘She took them straight after the funeral. She said I was too young and silly to take responsibility for the upbringing of her granddaughters. I am nearly twenty-two, Phil. I am not a child! Those girls would be far better off with me. You know that, do you not?'
Fidelia looked across at Phil, hoping to read agreement on her expressive face. Phil had been the girls’ governess for almost the whole time Fidelia was their stepmother, right up until she came into her fortune nine months ago. If anyone knew what was best for those girls she did.
'That odious woman! She was the one who always tried to get in my way when they were in my charge. “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” was her motto. No wonder Howard was the way he was... Oh, Dee, that was insensitive of me.'
'No, it is perfectly all right. I would be the first to admit that Howard was not one to show affection. To bend at all, really. But I think he loved me in his own way, and I know I would have been able to mellow him, had we more time. Two and a half years was not long enough to really know a man, or to truly form the bonds of affection that marriage requires.'
‘I’m sure you are right,’ Phil said flatly. ‘And you are certainly a better parent for those girls than that woman. But it will not be long before they are ready to marry. They can put up with their irascible grandmother until then.
‘And that termagant is right in one sense. You are too young to be raising them. Not because you are silly or unsuitable – no one who knows you would ever label you silly – but because you deserve to have the life of a young woman, not that of a middle-aged matron. Howard took you off the marriage mart too soon. You had barely begun to blossom.’
Fidelia blushed and mopped up her face again. With determination, she dropped the soggy scraps of material onto the side table. There would be no more tears now. They were done with.
'Phil, I have to get away,’ she confided, growing more confident the longer she was in her determined friend’s company. ‘Since Howard's accident, I just cannot stand to be in this house. It was never to my liking, being so cold and austere as it is. But it is even worse now that the girls have gone. And I will have to move out shortly, anyway, when the legalities are settled. The new Duke of Clarence must have this place. Can I stay with you for a while, just until I feel able to cope?'
She had expected her dearest friend to jump at the suggestion. After all, they’d been so close all these years. It had been very difficult for Fidelia when Phil moved away. Not because she lost the best governess her stepdaughters could have, but because she’d lost the companionship of her best friend and confidant. The letters they’d exchanged over the last months had hardly made up for their separation.
But now Phil was looking at her like a cornered doe, twisting her gloved hands as if washing them clean of some unpleasant substance.
'Darling Dee, I would love to invite you to stay with us, but the place is full to the rafters with people already. You know my father turned the Keep into a form of retreat for those with health problems. We are not far from
'I understand. I should not have asked. It was very impolite of me to invite myself. I just miss you. We were like sisters when you lived here with us. It was the best time of my life.' Fidelia tried to smile, but her mouth just wouldn't co-operate.
'You are like a sister to me, Dee darling. I … I wish I could invite you to stay... And I will stay here with you for the next few weeks, at least, until you are feeling stronger. I just cannot invite you to stay at Breckenhill Keep.'
Even in her distress, Fidelia was able to pick up that something wasn't quite right with her friend. There was something she was hiding. Maybe her inheritance and hasty marriage to the reclusive Byron Carstairs wasn't as wonderful as she’d made it out to be in her letters. It was almost as if she was ashamed of her new home.
'Never mind, let us change the subject. I am sure that once the initial period of mourning is over I will feel much better. And wearing black only serves to make me feel so much worse.’ She paused as she once more remembered her marriage. ‘I may not have loved Howard as a good wife should, but I did care for him. As much as I am able.'
A fresh wave of tears threatened, but she fought it back. And this time Phil didn't restrain herself. She flew to her side and placed a comforting arm around her shoulders.
'Please do not cry anymore, Dee. You will make yourself sick. Why not visit your parents? I am sure they would love to see you. In fact, I expected to find them here.'
'They are on the Riviera for the winter. They could not have made it back in time for the funeral, even had I asked them. And you know mother's ague acts up at this time of year. I did not want to be responsible for her increased discomfort. She is not getting any younger, you know.
‘They won’t be back for another two months. And before you say anything, I do not want to join them. Those people on the Continent make me feel...plain and boring.'
'You are neither plain nor boring!' Phil said staunchly.
Fidelia managed to smile genuinely for the first time. Phil’s indignant reaction warmed her heart. Even at finishing school she’d been the one to stand up for Fidelia against the bullies that abounded in that high-priced institution. She’d often seen Phil as her very own St Joan – without the armour and the army of course – but with all the fierce belief in the rightness of her cause.
'Thank you, dearest girl, but I am not the stunning redhead that you are. Nor do I have your passionate nature. I am quiet, and I like a peaceful life. I could never engage in witty repartee like you did at my soirees. I stopped having them when you left, you know. They became very boring affairs without you...'
'Howard did nothing for your confidence, did he? I wish you saw yourself as I do. You are like an exquisite china doll with that perfect skin and storm-cloud eyes that look almost violet under certain light conditions. And I would kill to have your ash blonde hair rather than this fiery mop!' She brushed a stray curl back disparagingly. 'And you have the sweetest disposition of anyone I have ever known. I used to call you my guardian angel, you know, when mother and I were living in such dire circumstances. If not for you, I do not know what I would have done.'
Fidelia reached up and stroked her friend's flushed cheek. Phil always coloured up when she was passionate about something. It was one of her most endearing qualities. She, on the other hand, always looked as pale as porcelain, her features rarely animated. The idea of being a life-sized china doll appalled her. But that was what she felt like sometimes. Just once she would like to feel carried away by passion – to feel vital and alive.
She allowed the conversation to change, determined not to press for hospitality again. It was not in her nature to force herself on anyone. If her friend said she couldn't find a place for her, then that would be the end of it. But oh how she would miss Phil when she went back to her ancient Keep in the wilds of Yorkshire. And the thought that she might be in danger or unhappy for some reason disturbed her greatly.
Maybe there was something she could do. She may not be able to stay with Phil, but the mention of the waters at Harrogate started her thinking. What if she went to stay at one of the hotels in the area and journeyed out to the Keep one day? She could surprise Phil, without imposing herself. It wouldn’t be a long visit, just morning or afternoon tea. Then maybe she might be able to repeat the visit a few days later.
She knew that Phil was still a newlywed, and was busy with her father's business, but she had no doubt that her friend would be pleased to see her, once she was there. And Fidelia desperately wanted to meet the mysterious Byron Carstairs and ascertain his suitability. He sounded too good to be true.
As Fidelia waved goodbye to her friend two weeks later from the front steps of Fotherington Manor, she realised she no longer felt the desire to cry. At least that part of her ordeal was over. Phil had given her back her strength and optimism. She was now ready to engage with life once more.
During Phil’s visit it had been like old times. They’d laughed and talked as they had in their school days. But even though it had felt like old times, there had always been a shadow hanging over them. A secret unshared that threatened to break apart their hard-won connection. She wished that she’d had the confidence to press the issue. What use was a friend if she was too frightened to help when the need arose? Maybe a few discrete inquiries might be enough to determine the problem. There were people on the edges of the Ton who knew everything about everyone of note. If there was a problem with this Byron Carstairs, she could find it out.
Just as she was about to turn back inside, she caught sight of a lone rider cantering down the long driveway. She paused to see who it might be. There had been a steady flow of acquaintances to her door since the funeral, most of them old friends of her husband or her parents. But this lone male rider looked too young to be one of those.
The closer he came, the more mysterious seemed his arrival. He was dressed as a flamboyant member of the ton, his clothing at odds with Victoria’s sombre dictates. She knew that some of the more rebellious youths within their set liked to create this image, simply to set people talking. And they did.
She did know some of those men from her coming out season and the soirees she had held at her London house, which had been designed to attract a husband for Phil. Of course, it hadn’t worked out. What did she know of match-making? All she’d succeeded in doing was embarrassing her friend and making Phil realize how unsuitable she was as a marriage partner. Maybe if she’d picked less prominent men to introduce her friend to, one of them might have taken a fancy to Philomena and been able to look past her poor circumstances. But that was not the case with the men she’d invited into her home. They’d all wanted wealth, noble lineage and beauty in their prospective bride. Character, intelligence and kindness were irrelevant to such men.
The rider was now at the bottom of the stairs and was dismounting with the aid of a stable boy who had come running from behind the house. It always amazed her how the servants all knew exactly what to do and when.
The household had run automatically during her time as chatelaine, requiring no input from her whatsoever. It was just another area where she’d felt useless.
Howard’s first wife, Lady Caroline, had been the epitome of noble accomplishments. Not only had she established a household that ran like clockwork, but had produced off-spring with admirable speed after their marriage. Her only failing had been in not producing a live heir. And she’d died trying to correct that fault. The little boy had only lived a few days longer than his mother.
‘My dear Lady Montgomery, how are you?’ The man spoke with exaggerated rounded vowels as if he had pebbles in his mouth.
Who was this man? This slim, short peacock was totally unfamiliar to her. Was he the brother of one of her school friends? His lank brown hair, with its long sidelevers and handle-bar moustache, seemed ludicrous on a man of his youthful years. It was as if he was trying to ap
‘I am sorry, sir. You have me at a disadvantage.’ By rights, she should not even be speaking to a man who had not formally been introduced to her. But this was her home, she was a married woman, and it would have been most impolite to have turned away from him at that moment, to walk back into the mansion and await his more formal approach.
‘Of course, I do beg your pardon. I am Sir Victor Rathgart. I was a friend of your dear husband, God rest his soul. As soon as I heard of his untimely passing, I knew I had to make haste to your side to pay my condolences and to see if there was anything I might do to assist you at this difficult time.’
Fidelia studied the man for a few long seconds before finding the polite words of thanks that were required of her. There was something not quite right about this man’s presentation. He had delivered his speech as if he was performing on the stage at Covent Garden. It sounded false.
‘Thank you, sir. But you need not have bothered making the long trip. I am well enough. I have only just now seen my closest friend off. She has been staying with me while the worst of my grief was weathered.’
‘Yes, Mrs Philomena Carstairs. From Yorkshire, is she not?’
Filomena’s mouth dropped open in a most unlady-like gape before she had a chance to correct it.
‘Yes. How is it that you know of Mrs Carstairs?’ She was edging for the door now, hoping that the butler, Haversham, would come to her rescue soon. It was one of the old man’s most annoying habits, his ever-so-polite intrusion into every aspect of her life. But, in this moment, that trait was highly prized. She needed him desperately. Although this man had done nothing so far to threaten her, she felt under siege.
‘Oh, I have never met the beautiful lady, but she is quite the talk of the ton at the moment. The unseemly haste of her marriage to gentry, who has not been seen in London for ten years or more, is quite the talk of the town.’
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