I was nervous, apprehensive, yet a part of me was hopeful as my eyes looked out the window to find the carriage making its way up the dirt road to my ancestral estate. A woman was coming to the castle who I hoped would take the position of governess to my four-year-old daughter, Emily.
I stood up from behind my desk, walked to the window and stared at the coach. I had sent my finest to fetch her from the train station in Fonyod proper. My estates bordered Lake Balaton.
The carriage stopped in front of the castle steps and I watched my footman help the woman out. My heart grew light. She was as beautiful as before. Her long tawny hair fell down past her shoulders, and her sensitive, sweet hazel eyes made my heart skip a beat. She smiled at the footman, made an offer of thanks for his help, which caused my lips to curl into a jealous snarl. I wanted that smile reserved for my presence only. Still, I had no right to ask for it, beast that I was.
There was a knock on the door.
She walked into my study, my valet, Lazlo, at her side.
"Count Mathias Duma, Miss Katherine Douglas," Lazlo announced.
She lifted her skirt, delivering her curtsey with a natural grace I knew she possessed. "Count Duma."
I bowed before her. "Miss Douglas." My eyes cut to Lazlo. "You may leave."
He nodded his head and promptly did as I commanded. Katherine looked apprehensive.
"When we¡¯re together, you may call me Mathias. Can I call you Kate?"
"Well, since I am to be a governess to your daughter, I think you should call me Katherine."
"I see, Katherine."
"You know, you're not quite what I expected you to be," she said.
I motioned for her to sit on the couch and I took the chair across from her. "What were you expecting? An old man with gray hair?"
"With yellow teeth and balding," she added, smiling. "It was a grim picture, I assure you, so I apologize. You're nothing of the sort."
I chuckled. "Oh, that is a dismal picture. Would you like some refreshment? Some tea, perhaps?"
"Do you have water?"
"I do." Without hesitation, I went to the bar near the window and poured a glass of water.
"Do I know you, Mathias?"
"So¡we've met before? I mean, your eyes - I know them."
"Three months ago at Lord Archibald's ball," I replied.
"Lord Archibald's masquerade ball," she corrected.
"I was the pilgrim you danced with."
"Ah, well, I see. And, ah, when do I get to meet Emily?"
I sat down, smiling at her. She needed time. This discovery was unexpected to her. "I'll call for her shortly."
"Why me?" she asked abruptly. "What happened to Emily's mother? Why do you need a governess?"
I clasped my hands in front of me, saddened by the thought of Elizabeth. "Two years ago we were riding in a carriage, coming from Fonyod, and we were attacked by a pack of wolves. They killed my wife, leaving me barely alive. Her loss was devastating to me."
"Thank you, Mathias."
"And whatever you need, ask. I will grant what I can."
"Thank you, again."
"I'll have Emily sent for," I said. Turning around, I left the room to find my daughter.
After meeting Emily, I was escorted to my room by one of the maids, Claudia. She ran a bath for me while I unpacked a little.
My room overlooked Lake Balaton. I could see where there was a lush flower garden from the estate which led to the shore, and to the left, there was a vineyard. I wondered if they were on Mathias's land as well.
Mathias. How handsome he was! He was tall and lean, with a full head of curly hair and a clever smile. His eyes sparkled when they looked at me. I remembered his kiss all too well from the masquerade ball. His lips were so sweet, reverent even. I prayed I'd get a chance to meet him after the party, but when everyone had unmasked, he was gone. I thought I'd never see him again, especially when an enigmatic count asked my guardian, Lord Archibald, if I would be willing to go to Hungary to be a governess. I had my reservations, but I wanted to explore the world and it was an opportunity I didn't have in London.
Emily loved to go outdoors, so I took her to the gardens to have a picnic. Afterwards, we would take a walk along the shore of the lake where I hoped to point out some of the fish.
"Is this a good spot for our picnic?" I asked.
"The best," Emily said.
I motioned for her to help me lay out the blanket and unpack the food. We had ham sandwiches, apples, and sparkling water that had been bottled. Emily laid her items out before her and we began to eat.
I had been in Hungary now for close to three weeks and I was having a marvelous time. The weather was much like that in England¡¯s summer, and everyone was pleasant. Emily loved learning, and I feared I couldn¡¯t keep up with her thirst for knowledge. Just yesterday we had gone into town and picked out some books at the local library which were appropriate for her.
"Daddy!" She looked up at the castle and waved. My eyes drifted in her direction and I discovered Mathias on his balcony, waving back at his daughter.
Mathias. He'd been so kind since my arrival. Every night we'd share the dinner meal together and discuss Emily's day. He loved his daughter very much, yet in the evenings he would retire to his study, almost abruptly, and I never saw him again until the next morning. It was as if he wanted to keep a painful affliction from me.
"It's a nice day for a picnic," he yelled.
"Join us, Daddy!"
I watched as Mathias left the balcony and then exited through the servant's doors. I enjoyed his company; he was clever, charming, and very sweet, and I feared my affection for him was growing faster than I could handle it. Every time he looked at me with those smoldering malachite eyes of his, I could barely keep my head.
"Good day, Katherine, Emily," he said.
I bit my lip. He wore only a white shirt, tucked neatly into his brown pants. Mathias also wore a pair of riding boots, as if he were preparing for a ride on his horse. The shirt tapered down neatly to his wrists and the top button was unfastened, revealing a hint of the broad chest underneath.
"Good day, Mathias," I said, coolly.
"Thank you." His eyes cut to me. "How are you two enjoying your day?"
"It's nice," I replied. "Were you going riding?"
"Yes, I have to meet someone in town. I won't be long," he replied.
He piqued my curiosity. Meeting people didn't seem like it was something he was fond of doing. He kept to himself mostly.
Emily finished her sandwich and washed it down with some water. "Now can I go look at the fish?"
"Yes, but stay within eyesight." I was still eating my meal.
Mathias chuckled as he watched Emily run down to the shore.
"Do you have a lesson planned for this afternoon?" He wiped his lips with a napkin as he finished his meal.
"I wanted to walk along the shore and show her the fish."
"I think she'll enjoy it very much." He smiled and began picking up our mess.
I liked it when he smiled, but he never seemed to give a full, broad one. He kept his lips close together, hardly opening them. He looked at me awkwardly and I realized I'd been staring at him.
"Katherine," he finally said, "the next couple of days I'll be in and out on business. There's a good chance you won't see me."
I nodded my head.
He leaned to the left, bracing himself with his hand on the blanket, studying me. His shirt casually fell open across his chest and I spied a deep scar at the base of his neck, almost on his shoulder. It looked almost knotted in some places where the healing had been difficult.
"Mathias, your bruise looks painful."
"I'm used to it."
I reached out, wanting to touch him, hoping to sooth whatever it was that had brought him such pain, but just as my fingers caressed his injury, his hand lunged out and grabbed my wrist.
"Don't touch me."
I froze. His face was lined with embarrassment and fear.
"Mathias, I only want to comfort you," I said, not daring to jerk my hand away.
Our eyes faced off; my heart thumped in my chest. I didn't want to make him mad. He released his grip slowly, allowing my fingers to touch his skin. He flinched almost involuntarily, as if it had been an eternity since someone touched him there.
"Do you find it ugly?" he asked.
"No, I don't." My heart went out to him. This wasn't the only scar he'd received that fateful night.
"Do you find me unattractive?"
"No, you're very handsome," I admitted.
Mathias leaned forward and his lips claimed mine with the same intensity I saw burning in his eyes. His lips were incredibly firm and I gave way to his desires, realizing they were mine as well.
I felt his arms slide under mine, his hands bracing my elbows. Our mouths continued to caress each other, tasting, tempting, teasing, forcing my senses to revel in the bliss of his kiss. It took every bit of my self control to break away from Mathias¡¯s hungry lips. He cupped my face with the palm of his hand.
"Do you think it's wise Emily finds us like this?" I asked.
It broke the spell. Mathias slowly withdrew from me. I never thought a man like Mathias, wealthy and established, would be attracted to such a wayward soul like me.
"No, I suppose it's not, Katherine," he paused. "When I return, I want to spend more time with you if you'll allow it."
"I'd like that."
He smiled his little smile that I'd grown accustomed to, and I rubbed his chin with my thumb, high on the sweet kiss I'd just shared with him.
Over the course of the next two months, Mathias and I spent a lot of time together. There were times he'd join a lesson I had planned for Emily and times when he took Emily and I on a ride around the countryside. He was always kind and generous, and I soon began to feel lonely when he left on his business trips each month. After Emily went to bed, we might share a nightcap in the garden. Mathias was smart and clever, but he could also be moody. I grew used to his ways and to him.
One night, three months later before the full moon, I found him in the garden overlooking the lake at twilight. His face was wrinkled with concern. I walked up beside him and put my hand on his arm, looking up into his troubled face.
"What's wrong, my kind Count?" I asked.
"I have to go away again for a couple of days," he replied.
"Why do you look so troubled?" I walked in front of him and pressed my hands against his firm chest. He wrapped his arms around my waist.
"I'll miss you, Mathias."
He put his hands on my arms and looked down into my eyes. "Katherine,-"
"Kate. Call me Kate," I said.
He smiled that sweet little smile I loved. "Kate."
"I love you, Mathias."
His lips claimed mine, fiercely - possessively. I felt like I was the only woman in the world. Our lips mated in a searing dance of passion, and when he ran his tongue over my lips, I eagerly accepted him. I was in love with Mathias and I wanted to let him know it.
His lips trailed down my neck, nipping at my flesh. "Kate, sweet Kate," he whispered.
My head spun, my knees grew wobbly. I threaded my fingers through the curls of his hair, my heart thumping in my chest.
Mathias's mouth trailed teasing kisses down my neck and he began to suckle my skin. I was lost in the swirling sensations of bliss.
Suddenly he jerked away. I opened my eyes only to discover blood dripping off his long incisor teeth. He looked startled himself and I realized that he'd lost control in his own sensations, as I had lost mine.
"Kate," he choked.
I felt blood trickle past my collarbone. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped my neck. "I'm so sorry, Kate. I was-"
"It doesn't hurt, I'm fine, I am," I said, trying to reassure him. He looked terrified. His lips trembled and his nostrils were distended.
"I hurt you."
"We got carried away."
Mathias backed up, shaking. I lunged out, grabbing his hand and squeezing it to let him know it didn't matter to me. "Mathias, please don't leave. I know you feel bad, but-"
His eyes cut to the moon and my eyes followed. It was just a sliver away from being full. In that moment, I'd never seen him look so feral as the moonlight crested over the hills and valleys of his face. His malachite eyes bordered on peridot. His teeth were sharp. His hair was wild and untamed. He looked like a beast, but I knew his heart and I wasn't scared.
He turned around and ran away.
I ran to the gatehouse in the vineyard and unleashed all my pent-up anxieties by throwing the chairs of the table at the mantle. I loved Kate! But how could I make love to her when my desires, left unchecked, would only maim her tender flesh? I wasn't worthy of her love. Collapsing, I fell to the floor and cried.
That night I saw the full moon crest over the horizon and the blood in my body raced. Bathed in the moonlight, my limbs grew, and hair extended over my body. My nose became long and snout-like. My hearing sharpened and my eyes allowed me to see clearly in the dark. I went to the livery to feed. Unlike others of my kind, I refused to eat the meat of a human. I would never eat it - not after Elizabeth's death.
Recklessly, I broke the wooden fence by smashing my body into it. The pigs squealed. I bit down on my prey. It howled in pain. A shot rang out, then another. I felt a sharp sting in my leg, and realizing I'd been shot, let go of the pig and scampered away.
I remember feeling the sun on my face. I was in the woods near the livery and I heard rustling noises close.
"Bring him inside!"
I was too feeble to protest. My servants found me naked, lying face down on the ground. One of them took off his pants and put them on me. Lazlo brought me inside. I shivered and convulsed from the aches and pains in my body. Hopefully Kate and Emily would not see me like this.
"What do you need, My Lord?" asked Lazlo.
"Bring me Resa Lemac. She sells herbs and medicines. She'll be at the gatehouse in the vineyard."
Lazlo nodded to my footman, Talon, to have it done and brought me to my room. I writhed in agony on the bed. Resa would help. She was more than a healer - she was a witch.
When next I awoke, Resa was there. She had pulled the bullet from my wound and was rubbing my chest with a washrag soaked in her usual healing ointments.
"Thank you, Resa."
"What happened? They say you must have been in a duel and left for dead, but I know better. Were you a wolf when this happened?"
"How could you be so careless?"
"I've fallen in love, Resa."
"Does the woman you love know about your condition?"
"No. I have to tell her. I just don't know how."
The door opened. Kate walked in. Her look of concern was replaced with shock - then betrayal.
"Mathias! Is that why you left me last night? For another woman?"
"Kate," I struggled to sit up. "It's not what you think. Resa is a healer. She's attending to my wound - nothing more."
Tears streamed down Kate's pretty face. It was my careless handling of the situation yesterday that brought her to misinterpret the scene between Resa and I now. Kate turned around and ran out of my room. I growled in frustration. I wanted to chase after her, but my leg wasn't fully healed. I knew I had to pursue her soon or risk losing her forever.
My leg healed sufficiently enough by the afternoon, but it was too late to follow Kate. My man, Lazlo, advised me she had left with one bag and that Talon, the footman, had driven her into town. Still, I had to try. I changed into my riding clothes and limped to the stables. I only had two hours of sunlight to find Kate and tell her the truth.
When I got to Fonyod, I went to the business district, looking for my coach. To my relief, I found Talon giving the horses water outside of the Taszar hotel.
"Where's Miss Douglas?" I asked, carefully dismounting my horse.
"Inside, My Lord."
"Tie up Rebel for me. I have to talk to her."
He nodded his head. The look on his face was utter confusion, but he did as he was told.
I moved with purpose. After providing the clerk with a sufficient bribe, he told me Kate¡¯s room number and her whereabouts. I made my way to the hotel gardens where Kate was sitting. Determined, I quietly limped up behind her, clenching my fists. I felt my blood begin to race through my body as the sun finally set. The full moon was about to rise. If only the garden didn¡¯t smell so sweet on this pale night.
"I love you, Kate."
She spun around in her chair. "Mathias!"
I must have been a pathetic sight with wrinkled clothes, but I didn't care. I gasped for breath, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart.
"Resa is a healer, a nurse, nothing more."
"How can I believe you? You had your shirt off. She was rubbing your chest," Kate replied.
I felt the adrenaline inside me begin to pump my blood faster. "Kate, I had bruises-"
"Is it true, were you in a duel?"
"Were you shot?"
+Yes - in the leg. Kate, please believe that I love you, but right now I have to go - and quickly."
"Go where, Mathias? Away from me?" she demanded. Her eyes wanted to believe my declaration of love, but my insistence on leaving seemed to reinforce my insincerity.
"I don't want you to see me when I become-"
"Become a what?" she demanded.
I choked on my words, then I felt the final surge of my body's reaction to the moonlight. My eyes cut to the horizon. My incandescent torturer crept into view. I ran, limping awkwardly, stumbling over the patio furniture. I heard Kate's footsteps behind me.
I dived past the rose bushes and the transformation came over me.
"Mathias, don't leave!"
As soon as my feral limbs hit the ground, I quickly moved out of her view. Hidden behind a patch of rose bushes, I watched her stop near the jasmine vines.
I howled. Her back clung to the trellis.
I howled again.
Slowly she began to back away toward the hotel down the path. I watched her with my eyes, making sure she was safe. She moved slow, unsure of herself.
My nose twitched. Someone - some beast was approaching. My howls must have attracted other animals.
She stepped onto the patio. The wolf attacked, knocking her over.
I ran as fast as my injured leg allowed and bounded onto the patio. The wolf looked up. I knew it was a beast like me. I growled at him to leave her alone. He sneered at me. I didn't wait. I pounced on him and we locked our teeth on each other's neck. We rolled on the ground as Kate scampered away. Then I remembered the roses. I shoved the wolf into the thorns and he howled in pain.
It did as I commanded. I backed away slowly, back onto the patio.
I turned around and looked at her through my feral eyes, nodding my head.
She sat down in a chair and cried.
My lover was a werewolf! He was kind and generous - and a wolf! I sat in the patio chair, stunned by this revelation. He slowly walked toward me, limping on one leg, and my heart went out to him. He'd just saved me from another of his kind, I firmly believed that. But where did that leave us?
The wolf laid down at my feet. He wanted to be near me. I got down on my knees next to him and caressed his neck. "I have to go upstairs. I can't stay here all night. You understand?"
He nodded his head.
I left him on the patio and went to my room. I suppose I should have been terrified of what Mathias was, but I wasn't. Now I understood why he had to go away for a couple of days a month. I believed his explanation that Resa was a healer. I can only imagine what his body went through. Mathias would never hurt me. Could I live with what he was? A beast? I cried myself to sleep.
Just after the daybreak, I heard the knob of my room's door twist, and Mathias walked in. He was naked, and his body was covered in scratches and bruises. His leg had a scar from the bullet wound, and the scar on his neck seemed to pulse in time with his heartbeat.
I rushed to the bath and presented him with a towel, which he wrapped around his waist. Then he sat down on the bed and looked at me. I slowly walked in front of him. His eyes were tired, his body trembled. I could only imagine what loneliness he lived with.
"Kate, I love you," he said quietly. "But I am a werewolf. I can't imagine that you're willing to live with that."
"You didn't hurt me last night," I reminded him.
"But I could hurt you, and the thought of doing that scares me."
I sat down next to him and reached for his hand, squeezing it. "You saved me last night."
"Don't protest - don'¯t push me away, Mathias. I'm in love with you, too, and I had the night to think about it. I don't want to leave. We'll deal with what you are - together."
"You mean it?"
I cupped his cheek with the palm of my hand and looked into his wounded malachite eyes. "Yes. I do."
His hand covered my mine. He savored my touch. I couldn't imagine leaving him. He gave me a home and a family, things I never had in my life. I leaned over and kissed his lips.