Lady Kathryn's father has sent her to court to find a husband, but being penniless and disinterested doesn't bode well for her success. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, she finds her loneliness is eased when the king charges her with the care of his newest acquisition: an uncanny black wolf. What the king doesn't realize is his remarkable pet was once Gabriel, his favorite knight, cursed into wolf form by an unfaithful wife.***
The beast's too-knowing eyes and the way he seems to understand her every utterance convinces Kathryn the wolf is more than what he seems. Resolving to restore him, she doesn't count on the greatest obstacle being Gabriel himself. The longer he stays in wolf form as a captive of the court, the harder it becomes for him to remember his humanity. And to fight his wolfish urges to maim and kill.
Only Kathryn's affection and determination stand between Gabriel the wolf and Gabriel the man. But when the man who betrayed him returns to court, will Kathryn's love be enough to keep Gabriel from exacting a brutish revenge that will condemn the wolf to death?
"You might not have heard, but the steward has given me use of Master Llewellyn's workshop to treat you. In the garden, I believe."
Leading the maiden forward, the wolf cut through the main corridor of the castle, then exited out the back, turning toward a small shed snuggled up cozily against the stone walls of the castle. He led the girl without hesitation to the right building, and when he glanced back, the girl was smiling to herself. "Have you have been to the castle before, my Lord Wolf?"
He looked up at her sharply, then huffed in a fair approximation of a human sigh. He had not meant to reveal he knew the castle, but in his present state of pain and abstraction, he had stumbled in keeping his secrets to himself….
The steward had fulfilled all of Kathryn's wishes with absolute precision and haste. The proper implements were there and waiting, as well as three strapping young lads from the stables who were used to violent animals and dirty work.
The wolf eyed these helpers with disfavor as he wriggled his way up onto the worktable.
"Do I need them to make you behave yourself, d'you think?" Kathryn whispered.
The wolf gave her a sharp look, then, ever so slightly, shook his head.
Kathryn breathed deeply to steel herself, then examined the wolf's injuries. She had seen a few dogfights in the kennels at home, and these wounds were rather typical of a death fight. There were large, deep lacerations on his shoulder where the greyhound had grabbed him, and smaller cuts on the wolf's face where the hound had scratched at him before the wolf killed it. Mud and blood--some of which even belonged to the wolf--matted the wolf's coat.
"I'll have to use the iron, I'm afraid, my lord," she said absently to the wolf. Rolling up her sleeves, she patted his side gently. "I'm going to have one of my helpers here wash your wounds with wine while I get the bellows going and heat the iron."
One of the lads stepped forward. "I can do that, m'lady. I've practice enough with the iron from tending the dogs and horses."
Kathryn nodded. "All right. Make sure to use charcoal, not coal. And do not let the iron get so hot flame leaps from it."
Her helper went to heat the hot iron.
As she made everything ready, the other two helpers skirted wide around the wolf, apparently loath to touch him. Kathryn sent one to get honey and brandy from the kitchen and the other to heat water on one of the workshop's impressively efficient little burners. She herself set about cleaning the wolf's filthy coat, rinsing the dirt and detritus from the scratches on his face and body.
He settled in comfortably to her handling. When she dabbed at the scratches with the wine, he did not flinch, snap, or otherwise make any overtures of violence toward her, even though her ministrations must have hurt him. Kathryn smiled in satisfaction. "You are indeed a truly mild-mannered wolf."
The wolf winced as she touched some tender spot.
Had he only been a brutish animal, he might have whined from the pain in his shoulder. He certainly would have snapped at her, but instead he remained passive and patient. As she continued their one-sided discourse, chattering amicably about random odds and ends, the wolf looked at her rather sardonically, his eyes narrowed. The back of her neck tingled with awareness. He understands me. Every word. This wolf was obviously more than he seemed.
But how much more?