The Wolf's Pursuit
The Wolf's Pursuit
London Fairy Tales Book 3
Published by Astraea Press
Copyright © 2013 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
THE WOLF'S PURSUIT
Copyright © 2013 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art Designed by For the Muse Designs
To Donald Charles Lainhart (192?-2012)
the best grandpa a girl could ask for. You lived life as a true hero. You fought bravely through WWII and lived life to the fullest. I was so blessed to be able to share this story with you a few hours before you took your last breath. Thank you for allowing me to use your name in this book. Thank you for allowing me to keep your legacy alive, as you have no living sons to carry on your family name. Even though you weren't a Duke, to me, you really were, the Duke of Lainhart. I love you grandpa! Smooches!
She loved flowers — the pink frilly ones that made a man roll his eyes in disgust. Yet Hunter could not bring himself to deny her anything. She was his soul mate, his love. And after being married for a year, he could no longer manage being apart from her. The life of a spy was unapologetic. Hunter would be gone for weeks at a time, spending many sleepless nights tossing and turning, aching for Lucy, the Royal Duchess of Haverstone.
Knowing he lacked the maturity of romance, given his young age of one-and-twenty, he had poured countless hours into this meeting, into her surprise.
He crossed the street and smiled, thinking of the way she would throw her head back in laughter and leap into his arms. Never a conventional bride, she didn't care a whit about propriety and often kissed him in public, much to the ton's dismay.
He wanted one of her kisses now. Needed to taste her lips.
Hunter pulled out his pocketwatch and examined the numbers. A tad late. He had spent a ridiculous amount of time picking out her favorite flowers and daydreaming on the way to their meeting place.
As he crossed the final street to Gunther's, he watched as Lucy waved wildly in the other direction. She raised both hands high above her head, frantically aiming for someone's attention. He picked up his pace. Anticipation overtook him as he watched his tiny wife begin to jump up and down. Something must be truly exciting for her to be acting so rashly. Truthfully, her behavior was reminiscent of when she saw him for the first time after being away for weeks.
And then, she stomped her tiny foot and began marching across the street.
Alarmed, he began to run.
But it was too late.
The carriage was moving too fast. She looked to her left just in time to see the carriage jolting out of the way, but not enough.
She fell to the ground.
Hunter swore. His legs felt like lead as he screamed and ran to her side. Blood trickled from her mouth. Her petite body was bent in an unnatural angle. Tears streamed down his face into his mouth. The taste of salt was revolting, for it reeked of her death.
"Lucy, love, can you hear me? Everything is going to be fine, just fine." He grasped her lifeless hand. She tried to shake her head. "Don't move, just lie still. I love you. I love you so much."
A single tear ran down her face. "I l-love you." Voice hoarse and weak, her lips trembled as she tried again to speak. Breath came out in short gasps.
"No, stay with me, you can't leave me, Lucy! Do you understand? You can't! You just can't." Hunter's tears clouded his vision but not enough, for the last thing he saw was her blue eyes turn lifeless as her chest heaved its last breath.
"No, no!" Hunter wailed, not caring that he was still in the middle of the street. His body trembled. Surely this was a nightmare that he would wake up from! The flowers in his hand, the anniversary flowers, were never meant to cover her grave.
Strong hands grasped his chest, pulling him away from the street. He heard a voice barking orders and looked up into the eyes of his twin brother.
Eyes that held guilt, shame, and remorse. "She thought I was you. I didn't know, I didn't…" Ash's eyes held unshed tears. "I was too late. I didn't know. Oh, what have I done?" Ash's face was pale and haunted as he embraced his brother.
Hunter was unable to say anything. No words would come, nothing. He felt lifeless, an empty void. And he knew, without a doubt, that he would forever remember this day, not purely because the love of his life had died in his arms, but because in her death she had taken his very soul with her.
Never would he be the same.
The Office would like you to please hand over the information you obtained from Napoleon. Failure to do so will result in the end of your life. I would love nothing more than to wrap my claws around the neck of the one woman able to best me.
Nine years later
February 1815, Belgium, 30 miles away from Waterloo
Hunter Wolfbane, Royal Duke of Haverstone, was in a foul mood. His horse had run off after yet another gunshot had narrowly missed Hunter's head, leaving him with no food, no drink, and worst of all, no whiskey.
How was he to make his way around the frigid countryside without his whiskey? It had taken him two days tramping through the melting snow to reach the village near Dominique Maksylov's estate, where he was staying.
As a spy for the Crown, Hunter had felt it his duty to notify Wellington that French soldiers were still in the vicinity and openly attacking civilians. His horse had done the job of getting him to Wellington's camp in record time and then promptly ran off the next morning when Hunter had stopped to stretch his legs. Blasted Russian horses.
Duty done. All he wanted was a hot bath, a supple wench, and new boots so his feet could get some respite. After all, without his horse he had resorted to trudging through the melting snow like some common criminal.
The inn was only a few more steps. Already he could taste the warm bread on his tongue, the ale pouring down his throat, the soft willing woman beneath him—
And then something struck him.
Not a thought, though it may have been equally shocking to have logical thought after being so famished.
No. It was something smaller.
And then another one hit.
"What the devil?" Who in the blazes was pelting him with rocks! His eyes adjusted to the glaring landscape as the sun peeked through the branches of the trees.
There was no one within his vicinity.
So, this was what it was like to go mad? Truthfully, he'd known that one day his past would catch up with him. After all, one could only lie and manipulate so many times in the name of His Majesty before he forgot the truth of his existence.
Resigned to his fate, he continued his walk toward the inn.
A rock sailed into the side of his face.
He hadn't expected madness to hurt this much. Nor for it to be as realistic as the blood currently trickling down his cheek.
He muttered a curse and took another look around him. All he saw was melting snow, dingy buildings, a woman digging up…
Wait. His eyes went back to the woman. A smile curved his lips as he stuffed his hands in hi
Finally, as rocks and dirt continued to soar, she stopped and kicked the ground.
"Looking for something?" Your mind perhaps — you've lost it?
The woman ceased her incessant digging and paused only momentarily to glare at him. To be fair, he deserved that and far worse, considering his eyes were naturally trained on her bum as it was in the air at that precise moment.
Blushing profusely, the girl put her hands on her hips, dirt clumps making her dress all the more blemished, and sighed. "What do you want?"
"What do I want?" Hunter repeated. "Well, that all depends, I guess. You see, it's been a while since I've answered such an open-ended question, but considering my lack of food or drink, I think I shall start with the biggest desire." He cleared his throat. "You see that inn over there? I want to find myself smothered beneath a buxom lady, preferably while inebriated with whiskey, and perhaps if I am being particularly selfish, I want to eat bread, lots and lots of warm bread. But firstly, what I want, nay what I desire, is that you stop pelting me with rocks."
"The only lady residing at the inn will not only smother you within an inch of your life, but dribble meat on your person while doing so, but by all means, experience it for yourself." She smiled sweetly, managed a curtsy, and continued her digging.
Another rock hit his boot. The chit spoke in perfect German, which should have been frightening, considering it had been a great while since Hunter had spoken the language. He cleared his throat again and tried, "Perhaps if you tell me what you're digging for? I can be of service and be on my way."
"Or you can just be on your way now," she said through gritted teeth.
"Allow me this small boon. After all, now my curiosity is piqued." As well as my lust, his brain added as he was again given quite a nice view of her feminine curves.
"My pistol." Her hands dug deeper into the earth. "I buried it last night, and now I cannot find it!"
Several thoughts went through Hunter's head at that moment, the first and most obvious being what the devil she was doing with a pistol? The second, why, if she needed the pistol so desperately, was she set on burying it?
"Did it die? Was it in need of a proper burial then? It seems you buried it at least a foot down. How can the poor thing breathe with that much earth hovering above it?"
She stopped. "If I tell you, will you leave me alone?"
Well, that was rude. "Perhaps."
"I'm going to rescue my sister. She's trapped in that dratted castle by the Beast, and I need my pistol in order to retrieve her!"
"So why the devil did you bury it?" Hunter ignored the information, thinking it nothing but an exaggeration. The only woman Dominique had been successful in capturing was Isabelle, and she was by no means trapped, nor was she German. Obviously this raven-haired beauty was a touch mad.
"I couldn't very well conceal it, not when all my belongings were stolen, and it cannot fit in my corset. As you can well see, considering you've been staring at my body like a dog in heat for the past five minutes!"
Blast, she was beautiful when provoked. Her soft white skin had a touch of pink on her cheeks that perfectly matched her cherry red lips.
"Am I to understand that you are here, in this place, trying to find your pistol, so you can shoot the Beast and rescue your sister?"
"Yes, I believe that is what I just said."
"Well, this day has just gotten brighter. I say!" Hunter clapped his hands in amusement. "Allow me to accompany you to the castle. I would love nothing more than to see the look on the Beast's face while he stares down the barrel of a pistol. Been meaning to challenge the fellow to a duel for years now!" Hunter couldn't believe his good luck. He had needed something to amuse him after such a long journey. Perhaps he could keep her, as a sort of... pet. He smiled at the thought.
"You'll take me there, and not hinder me?" the girl asked skeptically, as her brow lifted.
"Absolutely. In fact, I may just take a shot myself. After all, I'm sure he deserves it. For taking… what did you say your sister's name was?"
"Isabelle," she said in perfect English.
Blazes. This was turning out to be the best day of his life! "You don't say?" Hunter grinned, slowly approached the girl, and offered his arm. "And what may I call you, dear lady?"
"Gwen. Apologies for using German. I thought perhaps it best I hid my identity. I've seen far too many French soldiers scattered about."
Smart girl. Now there was an interesting turn of events. Beautiful, smart, and violent. "Right, well, allow me at least a few minutes of respite, a hot meal, and we'll be on our way. Agreed?"
"Fine." She accepted his arm. "But only because I am without a weapon and cannot possibly take the man on myself."
"No, you'd most likely die." Hunter nodded, trying to make himself sound more useful, though he knew Dominique could very well handle a mad female. It was of no matter. Once she saw her sister was healthy and content, he would ask to keep her. Gwen, after all, couldn't very well travel alone without being ruined. The poor thing was probably already compromised, for what girl trudged from England to the continent by herself? One that had no reputation to protect, or not one to speak of. Truly, it was the beginning of a wonderful day.
They walked in silence until they reached the inn. Upon entering, Hunter felt on edge. And it had nothing to do with the girl next to him. She was distracting to a dangerous level, and it took everything within him to peel his eyes away from her as he ordered food and drink.
No, the prickling on the back of his neck had everything to do with the men sitting in the far corner. English gentlemen. He could spot one a mile away; after all, he was one of them, though he'd been spying for the Crown for the past ten years and had yet to re-enter into society since his wife's death.
He shuddered at the thought. He never allowed himself to think of her, not in that way, with her broken body and blood trickling out of her mouth. The faint smile on her lips as her eyes went cold.
Ale, he needed ale.
Out of habit, he put a protective arm around Gwen. They sat in the corner so he could have a better view of the rest of the establishment. It was not common to see any Englishmen in the area so close to the action. If they were here, they were soldiers, and he knew every able-bodied spy.
The tavern wench approached, completely blocking his view, for she was at least twice his size, and not in a flattering way. His eyes skimmed where she loomed over him, which he hoped she wouldn't take as an invitation, and slowly drew up to her face. Merciful heavens, she had a mustache. He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again.
"So the fancy gent likes what he sees, does he?" She winked.
Blast. He'd take the French any day. They'd probably win the war if they had women like this working for them. But his eyes, devil take it, he could not avert his eyes from her face. Almost like she was casting some witch's spell on him. Out of desperation he reached for Gwen's hand.
Gwen giggled. "Sorry, my husband here hasn't slept a wink since we've been married. Just yesterday, if you get my meaning. Would you mind terribly getting us some ale and fresh bread? We'll be taking a rest here at the inn tonight."
The woman flashed one last grin at Hunter before leaving.
He shuddered. "I assure you I've never in my life been without words until now."
Gwen removed her hand from his death grip and sighed. "Well, at least I know you're not a spy. With manners like that, you'd surely get yourself killed. You cannot simply gawk at a woman like that. It isn't done, and now you've shown weakness. Don't trust me to save you. I sure hope you can hold your own with the Beast tomorrow."
If she only knew. "I'll manage, though things may go better if I simply stand behind you."
"Absolutely not, it just provides a better view."
"I'm sorry, rake seems to be the word."
"Thank you," Hunter said warmly, and added, "wife" with a saucy grin.
"I did that only to help you, not because I want any sort of attachment. You should know that if I hadn't done so, that tavern wench would be at this very moment smothering you with—"
"—please, I hope to keep my appetite."
Gwen smiled sweetly and winked.
Blast, where had this woman fallen from? Heaven? Every mannerism bespoke a cunning intelligence he'd never before seen in polite society. Not that he would truly know, since he'd been everywhere but London since… the incident.
He cleared his throat and looked away as a knot lodged itself uncomfortably in his chest.
The doors to the establishment opened up. Two impeccably dressed men walked in, making their way directly for the Englishmen.
Gwen squinted in their direction, then looked back to Hunter. "Strange."
"What?" He tried to play innocent of the whole situation, though it was indeed odd.
"Oh, it's probably nothing."
"Enlighten me, I've been alone without whiskey or horse for a day now. I do so love to be entertained."
Gwen exhaled and leaned in. "See those two men who just walked in?"
"Yes." Of course he had. He was a spy, after all.
"Just yesterday I was on the same ship as them."
Hunter leaned even further forward. "And this is significant because?"
"Well, it could be nothing." Gwen craned her head to look at the men and then looked back at Hunter. "But they were speaking French."
"And returning from?"
"London. I heard them saying they had business with the Earl of Trehmont."
Hunter cursed without realizing he was giving himself away. Everyone knew Trehmont was without funds. He'd worked for the War Office nearly as long as Hunter. What would the French want with Trehmont?
He cleared his throat and strained to listen to their conversation.
The men ordered ale and toasted.