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Beast of Blackbirch Manor [MultiFormat]
eBook by Penelope Marzec

eBook Category: Romance/Science Fiction
eBook Description: Cursed by a witch as a boy, Tadeusz suffers the torment of being a 'beast' man. Unless he finds a woman who will love him, he will become a wolf on his thirty-third birthday. When he meets the woman he has married by proxy, he knows he is doomed. Victoria is beautiful--and horrified to discover she has married a monster. Rating: Contains sexual content, adult language.

eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, Published: 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2007

23 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

Southwestern Pennsylvania,

September 1895

Victoria's steps faltered as she rounded the bend in the road that would bring her to Blackbirch Manor. Shoving away the remnants of the old horror from her mind, she knew she must not delay any longer. Married to Tadeusz Hermanowski by proxy six weeks ago, she had insisted she needed time to settle her affairs in New York before she could journey to Taylor's Grove, Pennsylvania. However, Tadeusz had grown impatient and her cousin, Paul's, desperate letters convinced her to put aside her misgivings and make haste.

Despite the stifling heat of the day, an icy shiver wound its way around Victoria's heart as she trudged onward up the hill to what had been her childhood home. Nine years ago, she had left under a cloud of suspicion, intending never to return. Now the manor no longer belonged to her family. Tadeusz Hermanowski owned the estate.

Paul had insisted upon the marriage. Officially in mourning for the death of her first husband, Giles Billingsford III, Victoria objected to her cousin's plan. However, Giles had departed this world leaving behind a mountain of debt and Hermanowski had offered to settle all the outstanding accounts--an amazingly munificent offer.

She felt as if she had been purchased.

Still, Paul had given the man glowing praise, informing her that Tadeusz was a wealthy brewer with genteel manners who loved music and horses.

The horrible black crepe stuck to her skin while perspiration trickled down between her breasts as she toiled up the incline. With the long mourning veil, she felt nearly suffocated. The day had started off with a September chill in the air, but the afternoon had grown warmer despite the lack of sunshine. She should have waited in town for the carriage which would have been sent to fetch her, but she had longed for exercise and fresh air after sitting so long in the train.

She came over the rise and saw the lake on her right while above her the sight of the very tops of the great, gray turrets, sent her emotions into a dark tumult. Even now--after all the intervening years--her courage nearly failed her. It took all her willpower not to turn around and run back down the hill.

She stiffened her spine, threw her shoulders back, and stared out at the lake, which the close-set birches left in perpetual gloom. Her mouth grew dry and her heart thundered, but she reasoned with herself. She had to be sensible. She had no money and nowhere else to go.

The rumble of thunder in the distance shook her from her dismal musing. Glancing upward, she noticed the billowing thunderheads blackening the sky in the west. If she did not hurry, she would be at the mercy of the approaching storm. But the oppressive heat could very well have her falling into a swoon. Stopping to remove the veil, she found she could barely breathe in the saturated, humid air. Drawing out the Marcelaine silk fan from her reticule, she tried to cool the flush on her cheeks but her efforts proved fruitless.

She clenched her teeth. She certainly would not melt and she had dawdled long enough. She buoyed herself onward with the knowledge that she would soon see her cousin again after all these long years away--and she would see Ipsy, as well, the dear cook who had been closer to her than her own tortured mother.

Finally reaching the gate of the manor with its massive columns and intricate ironwork arch, she was appalled by the condition of the once imposing structure. Much of the lacy ironwork had been swallowed up by vines and the gate was unlatched. It swung slowly on rusty hinges, emitting a high squeal that set her nerves on end.

A violent clap of thunder startled her as huge drops of rain splattered around her. Within seconds, she could see nothing but gray water falling all around her. Pelted by the heavy downpour, she hiked up her skirts and ran, blinded by the deluge. Then, above the sound of the storm, she heard the hoof beats of a horse coming up quickly behind her.

"Stop!" The voice of the rider boomed out above the sound of the storm. "Who are you?"

Whirling around, she held her hand above her eyes and saw the horse--a huge, fearsome black creature nearly upon her, but worse was the beast she saw atop the saddle! Though wearing a proper riding outfit, the monster's head was covered with the thick fur of an animal. Terrified by the sight, she screamed and the horse reared up. Trying to escape the deadly flying hooves, she stumbled backward--not realizing that she had reached the front entrance of the mansion. Losing her balance, she fell. Her head hit the granite steps.

She tried to rise but dizziness overtook her. Turning her head ever so slightly so that the world would not spin, she glanced up from her lowly position. She could see the huge belly of the horse and a pair of shiny boots but the pain in her head intensified until the entire world faded away as she collapsed into black oblivion.

* * * *

Tadeusz Hermanowski stared down at the motionless body of his new wife as she lay unconscious on the settee in the library, her face as pale as fresh cream save for the blood oozing from the wound on her head. At first, he had seen only a black blur against the gray wall of water pouring down from the sky and thought he was about to catch one of the trespassers who had been vandalizing the manor.

He should have known fate was against him--again. He should have known he could not escape his wretched doom--no matter how hard he tried.

He turned away and glared at the flames in the fireplace. Clenching his hand into a fist, he pounded the mantle. How could he have known she would walk up the hill from Taylor's Grove? She should have waited for a carriage to be sent for her use!

He spun around again to study her face. He felt his pulse race as he noticed the delicately arched brows, the wide forehead, and the small, pert nose. Even in repose, she looked like an angel. He put his hands to his temples, closed his eyes, and tried to rub away the ache in his head.

Paul had tricked him! The wretched man had insisted there were no pictures of her. Paul's father and Victoria's father were brothers, so he claimed Victoria bore a strong resemblance to him--and Paul had been an ungainly man with a large bulbous nose and sizeable ears that stuck out like wings from his balding head.

Tadeusz's gut churned. He knew he was damned. When he had been cursed, the witch had pronounced that if he had found no woman to love him by his thirty-third birthday, he would be transformed into a wolf--forever.

In only four days, he would turn thirty-three. He knew without a doubt that this beautiful woman could never love him! He felt the chill of bitter ice encasing his heart.

Opening his eyes, he gazed down at Victoria once more. Her nearly translucent skin lent her an ethereal quality while her flaxen hair reminded him of the purest gold. Her tresses had come undone and trailed across her bosom. His heart gave an ominous thud.

Guilt weighed heavily on his shoulders as he watched the cook press clean cloths to his new wife's wound to staunch the bleeding.

What if she did not come around? Tortured by the thought, he turned, crossed the room, and stood by the window to stare out at the land he had won in a poker game with Paul. He had thought his luck had changed that day. He had truly believed then that he had a chance.

Now he knew he did not.

Exactly one month after he and Victoria were married by proxy, Paul had been found dead--and it seemed the citizens of Taylor's Grove believed Tadeusz to be responsible. Because he was half beast already. A freak. Someone they did not trust.

A chill went through him as he remembered seeing what remained of Paul, but his temper quickly flared again as he thought of the foolish chance Victoria had taken by walking to Blackbirch Manor alone. Unable to suppress his wrath, he let out a vigorous string of curses in Polish. Slamming his fist on the windowsill caused a resounding thud that rattled the glass panes, but it made him feel no better than when he pounded the mantle.

His exquisite wife was lying unconscious on the sofa with a gash on her head--because she had seen a monster.

The smell of the ammonia wafting through the air stung his nostrils as Mrs. Difford, the old cook, continued her efforts to revive Victoria by diligently waving smelling salts beneath her nose. He had already sent William to fetch the doctor. Would the doctor be able to get to the house in this wretched weather? The main road to town undoubtedly looked like a swamp after the cloudburst.

He clenched his jaw tightly and stalked back across the room to see if Mrs. Difford had made any progress.

"There, there my sweet Miss Vicky! Open your eyes, love." The cook patted the pallid cheeks and hands.

"Some whiskey perhaps..." he began.

"She's quite insensible. You would drown her." Mrs. Difford spoke softly and pursed her lips when she finished, but she did not look up at him. Whenever she did, he saw the fear in her eyes. Or was it loathing? He was never quite sure.

He paced back and forth, raking his hand through his miserable mane. "Perhaps, sir, if the settee was closer to the fire...."

Tadeusz frowned. "Yes, yes. That is a good idea. She is soaked to the skin."

Mrs. Difford dabbed at the moisture on her own face with the corner of her apron. "She is as cold as a winter's day."

Tadeusz felt his heart sink. Was there nothing else they could do? His chest felt weighted with lead. Gently, he pushed the settee right up to the edge of the hearth--closer than was prudent. He placed more logs on the fire, as well, until he thought he would singe the hair off his hands--not that it would matter. It always grew back thicker than ever.

"I see a bit of pink coming to her cheeks, sir." Mrs. Difford sniffed and dashed away a lone tear.

He bent to run his hand along Victoria's cheek. Her skin had the softness of silk and he found that gliding his rough calluses along the smooth surface sent a surge of heat pumping through his veins. He pulled away. Surely, it was only the warmth of the fire that caused such a reaction.

Mrs. Difford renewed her efforts with more enthusiasm. The smell of the ammonia had him stepping back several paces.

Then he heard a soft murmur from the woman's throat and his heart skipped a beat.

"Miss Vicky! That's the spirit, my love! Open those lovely blue eyes of yours," Mrs. Difford encouraged.

Victoria's hand reached out and shoved the smelling salts away. Relief washed through Tadeusz.

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