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Title: In the Aerie of the Wolf
Author: Leonora Pruner
Genre: Gothic historical fiction
Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Nordskog Publishing (April 1, 2011)
Set in 18th century England, our heroine Anne is betrothed to a man she’s never met and must leave behind her girlhood fantasies. When she arrives at the home of Lord Wolverton, Master of the Wolf’s Aerie, the mysteries and challenges of her new life cause her to seek Biblical wisdom and guidance concerning honor, integrity, and faithfulness. In this story of the discovery of true love, there is also danger, betrayal, and sword fighting—and it all takes place in a castle complete with secret passageways. Become lost in another time and place. You will not want to put this book down.
The strange, deep voice coming from a dark corner startled her, prompting a rash of prickles on her skin. She heard a crunching step on one of the paths. Had he come through the door? She heard no sound of it. Should she call for Smithson? Anne pulled her Spanish shawl tighter as she rose and faced the voice, demanding in tones elevated by fear, “W-who are you?”
“Andrew Lupus, at your service.”
She saw the flash of diamond buckles as he made a proper leg in bowing. Diamonds? Who else could it be in this place? Despite a mouth suddenly dry she managed to murmur, “Anne Crofton,” and dropped a curtsy.
“Have we met?” she asked hesitantly, trying to recognize his voice.
“Not formally. We do not stand on ceremony at the Aerie.”
“Oh.” Her heart was pounding uncomfortably hard. “Are you, are you Lord Wolverton, m-my host?”
At last! She made a deep curtsy, trying to conceal her nervousness. “I am so happy to have this opportunity to thank you for your kindness in providing my lovely rooms. The moment I crossed the threshold, I felt the warmth of ‘home’.”
“Such was my desire. I am gratified it pleased you.”
She noticed the moonlight exposed the white stockings covering his ankles above the sparkling buckles. If she could talk long enough, it might move up his figure and reveal his features. “I was uneasy coming to this strange place, as you might imagine. But, on seeing my things from ho… the Haven, and realizing your considerable effort in bringing them here, not to say planning and forethought, I felt easier in my mind.”
“Then the efforts were more than justified. I trust your journey was not overly tiring.”
“No. Lengthy, but Old Samson took excellent care of me.”
“He is … my most faithful servant.”
Anne took a small step backwards and was pleased to see his feet move towards her and the moonlight expose his dark breeches fastened at his knees. “This is a very unusual garden. Old Samson said it was developed some years past, which I take to mean by one of your ancestors?”
“Traditions in the region indicate it was first planted in the 15th century by the eccentric master of the castle. He also delighted in fostering the notion that we were werewolves.”
Suddenly chilled, Anne asked, “W-werewolves? Surely you jest.”
“Not at all. Very likely it suited a perverse sense of humor or provided primitive power over a very superstitious people. Whatever his reasons, he cultivated that image. He called this place the ‘Aerie of the Wolf’ and took ‘Lupus’ as the family name.”
“How strange,” she murmured, seeing the dark skirt of his coat become visible, possibly brown like his servant’s livery. Casually, she moved a step away from him.
“Anything out of the way was attributed to him, justly or not. As a result, a number of legends grew up about us.” Again, his feet moved forward.
The fingers of his right hand became visible. Beneath the wide lace hanging from his sleeve, she noticed a ring with a large dark stone on his fore finger. Perhaps it was like the betrothal ring she wore. A word, long forgotten, learned with exciting shivers of fright, rose to her consciousness. Gripping her fan tightly, and taking a deep breath, she asked boldly, “And you, are you also a, ly, lycanthrope?”
“A what? A lycanthrope?”
Tensely, she awaited his reaction. Fascinated, she watched the light slowly move up his arm as he stepped towards her with a low laugh.
“You are asking me if I am a werewolf? Come, come. How might I answer? If I say ‘No, of course not,’ I could be lying. If I was a werewolf, I certainly would not admit to it to my … betrothed.”
The emotional timbre when he pronounced ‘betrothed’, created an enjoyable tingle in Anne. “No, I suppose not. I might be frightened away before being wed.”
“And that would not suit my plan at all.”
He almost sounded as if he was smiling. “And what is your plan, milord?” She tried to speak lightly, but her voice trembled slightly.
He paused briefly before answering in measured, vibrant tones, “To make you my wife.”
“Oh!” Her pulse quickened. “But why? Why me? You don’t even know me.”
“Ah, there you err. I know a great deal about you. Your gentle kindness and graciousness will be valued at the Aerie, and your wit and brave heart especially please me.”
“I cannot think why you should entertain such absurd ideas about me. I am far from brave, although I should like to be so,” she ended wistfully. She looked down at her fan, opened and closed it, and drifted back another step.
“It takes great courage to converse with a suspected werewolf on the night of a full moon without screaming for aid.”
She looked up in surprise. The lace of his shirt was clearly visible and metallic braid glinted down the front edges of his full-skirted coat. He’s not a great deal taller than I am, she thought. Perhaps he is shy because he is of small stature. “I, I may be foolish, but I admit I feel no danger.”
“Under these circumstances it is foolhardy to inquire if your companion is a werewolf, even in a veiled manner. The question might rouse him to a lethal reaction.”
“Ah, but if you do not wed me, your plan will fail. I must be safe until then.”
“As you say.”
“In any event, as your guest, I am already at your mercy, milord. Your many kindnesses encourage me to trust you.” Turning, she walked away slowly to the far side of the bench, hoping he would follow into the light. “Please, do not tell me my trust is misplaced,” she said, glancing hopefully over her shoulder.
But she was alone.