Once a Wolf
Bantam (July 5, 2000)
ISBN-13: 9780553580211 ♦ ISBN-10: 0553580213
In the unspoiled expanses of the American West, Tomas Alejandro Randall was called El Lobo, the desperado and sworn enemy of powerful financier Cole MacLean. Few humans knew his true identity: heir to a wolf bloodline that made him as much an exotic beast as a devastatingly attractive man. It was Tomas’s plan to lure Cole MacLean’s elegant fiancee, Lady Rowena Forster, from her New York mansion to the wild frontier. There he planned to seduce the golden-haired beauty as revenge for the destruction of his family at MacLean’s hands. But once she was in his possession, El Lobo found himself unable to resist the call of his own untamed passion–a passion that would claim the beauty for his own. As for Lady Rowena, she desperately hid her own wolf heritage behind an icy, controlled exterior. Yet the famous “Lady Ice” found her inhibitions melting and her true nature emerging in the presence of this handsome desperado. Both knew the danger of their pairing, but their wild hearts would risk everything–even death–for a chance at everlasting love.”
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: New York City, 1878
“It really is the most wonderful news, Lady Rowena,” the middle-aged matron said, smiling with benevolent indulgence upon her hostess. “Al society is looking forward to the wedding. And as for short engagements”–she made a dismissive gesture– “everyone knows they are the ideal.”
Lady Rowena Forster returned Mrs. Arthur Van Rijn’s smile and offered her and her two daughters another serving of tea. The young ladies accepted with just the right degree of formal grace.
“My girls have benefited so much from your tutoring,” Mrs. Van Rijn said, observing her daughters with pride. “I quite despaired of them ever becoming proper ladies before you took them under your wing.”
“It was my pleasure, I assure you,” Rowena said. And, indeed, the girls were attractive. But they would have been accepted in society, polished or not, because of their family’s standing among the aristocracy of New York–the aristocracy which, three years ago, had welcomed Lady Rowena Forster into its midst.
When Rowena fled her arranged marriage in England, she had gone to the one place where her brother Braden, the Earl of Greyburn, would never have thought to look for her: America. She had lived quietly for a time, relying on the generous inheritance she’d received from a distant relative. But then word had come from England that Braden no longer demanded her marriage to the American of werewolf blood chosen for her. Though the Cause of preserving the werewolf race was still his life’s work, he no longer forced others to be an unwilling part of it.
All at once Rowena found herself free. She could go back to England, but there were painful memories there she was not prepared to resurrect. And soon after she came out of hiding, she found that New York society was only too glad to embrace an earl’s sister from England. She had slipped easily into the routine of a winter Season and summers at Newport or Southampton. After nearly three years, she was an established member of the elite.
But the social round, and a strong commitment to several charitable associations, was not enough to fill the vacancy in her life. The husband, children and normal, human life of which she’d always dreamed were still denied her.
Until the man she had least expected to meet had come into her circle and offered companionship, unique understanding, and the answer to her dilemma.
“It’s so gratifying that you have decided to settle here in New York,” Mrs. Van Rijn went on. “We should all miss you terribly were you to return to England.”
“As I should miss you,” Rowena said with a tiny nod. “We shall visit England several times a year. Mr. MacLean no longer has any need to personally manage his family’s holdings in Texas.”
“But of course. He would be quite beyond the pale to expect you to live among savages.” She set down her cup and folded gloved hands in her narrow lap. “Mr. MacLean is a true gentleman.”
Yes, Rowena thought. A true gentleman. No one in New York could dispute that, least of all herself. He was the fantasy of every unmarried woman in New York: immensely wealthy, handsome, charming, impeccably attired and mannered, a generous patron of favored charities, possessing the friendship of husbands on the Stock Exchange and blessed with his family’s substantial land ownership since long before the War of Secession.
The fact that Cole MacLean had lost his arm in the War, fighting for the South, was not held against him. It made him seem the more dashing to admiring young ladies.
How ironic that those ladies had lost him to the one woman who hadn’t wanted anything to do with him at first. Cole was, after all, the very man her brother had intended her to marry; that knowledge had made her avoid him assiduously for nearly a year. Then she’d begun to learn that he was the single perfect mate for her.
Yes, quite perfect.
“I’m sure you have many preparations to make,” Mrs. Van Rijn said, rising. “We have imposed too much on your time.”
Rowena snapped out of her musings and stood with a muted rustle of skirts. “Not at all, Mrs. Van Rijn. Your company, and that of your daughters, is always most welcome.” She offered her hand. “I trust that I shall see you again soon?”
“We will be attending Mrs. Peacock’s Farewell Ball,” Mrs. Van Rijn said. “We shall see you there. And then, of course, we will be leaving for Newport.” She pressed Rowena’s hand. “Your wedding will be the highlight of the summer Season.”
Rowena murmured words of gratitude and exchanged goodbyes with the two Van Rijn daughters. Her parlor maid, Kate, showed them to the door.
Rowena watched from the window until the Van Rijn carriage was lost among the many others negotiating the busy street, and only then allowed herself a moment to sigh and lean against the nearest chair. The stream of callers had been endless since the formal announcement of her engagement to Mr. Cole MacLean. She had been brought up to receive multiple guests with perfect aplomb, and yet it was almost as if she were eager to be rid of the prescribed rituals that amounted to little more than pretty words and self-satisfied pretensions.
She shook her head. She must be weary indeed to have such contrary thoughts. Cole would not appreciate them. He expected her to be the exemplary hostess, a credit to his standing and situation. When she and Cole were married, life would be much the same, if not more challenging. She couldn’t let herself falter, not even when the children arrived. Children who would never know of their beastly heritage. Wasn’t that worth every sacrifice?
Suddenly aware that Kate was still in the room, Rowena dismissed the girl and climbed the stairs to her bed chamber. She went at once to the wardrobe and drew out the heavy wedding gown that had been finished just days ago.
The gown was of white mousseline and silk brocade stitched with pearls, its virginal purity appropriate in spite of Rowena’s years. Few in New York would guess that she had reached the age of thirty, and no one challenged her complete respectability.
The dress was beautiful, extravagant, and extremely expensive. Cole had commissioned it from Worth himself on a trip to Paris. He’d told her that it was essential to display wealth as well as possess it; to do less would damage his reputation among their peers. Rowena had questioned him about the necessity for such exorbitance wasted on a gown she’d wear but once. A few coolly reproving words from him had silenced her on that subject.
She shuddered to remember how she’d behaved with Cole at the beginning. The bad habits she’d accumulated in a lifetime of defying her brother soon became disagreeably apparent. She reacted to any challenging masculine authority with discreditable spite and sarcasm. Cole had been the one to point out to her that her manner was overly bold, her speech much too pointed and hardly fitting for a lady of delicacy and rank. In fact, it smacked of the vulgar beast she wished to overcome.
He was right. He was always right. It was not his business to change; she must do the adapting. His recognition of her flaws had convinced her just how well he suited her. She had not been forced to marry him; she had chosen, after two years of his acquaintance. He had given her one final reason above all others to accept his proposal of marriage.
He alone knew what she was. She need never fear that some slip would reveal her shame, or that her keener senses, however she struggled to keep them in check, might betray her. She would not be burdened with knowing she deceived some ordinary man who believed that she, too, was normal.
Cole was not human. But Braden had been mistaken in assuming him to be a willing participant in his Cause. Cole had grown to feel the same distaste for his werewolf blood as Rowena. He wouldn’t let his wife stray one step from humanity. He alone could keep the wolf at bay–and protect her from herself.
A gentle voice sounded deep in Rowena’s mind: “But do you love him? Love is the most important thing in the world.”
Of course Cassidy, Braden’s young wife, had never spoken those exact words to her, not at Greyburn in England nor in the girl’s letters to New York. But had she been here now, she would have said something very similar.
Cassidy hadn’t lost her innocence in marriage to the Earl, or in embracing her werewolf nature. She still believed that love could solve every problem.
It had no place in Rowena’s plans. Once she had hoped to love, but no longer. Love and passion were too closely entangled. Passion lay close to the animal nature, the uncontrolled wildness that was the beast. Rowena had long ago decided that she would die rather than foster that monster within herself.
Romantic love, anger, yearning, desire: ardor of any kind was behind her. Her sole desire was for stability, and ordinary children who would look to her for guidance. Surely that was enough.
Carefully Rowena restored the gown to its place, as if she could put troubling thoughts away just as easily. Her uncooperative mind moved to the latest rumor–subtle, generally ignored–that Cole had engaged in some less-than-honorable business practices.
Of course all men in his position had enemies, those who would look for blots in an otherwise spotless reputation. Such envious busybodies would speak of dark secrets and hidden motives. But Cole’s only dark secret was his loup-garou blood, and he had renounced that forever.
Rowena sorted through her gowns to choose the one most appropriate for tonight’s dinner party at the Greenwells’. Cole would be there, of course–his last engagement before leaving on business for Chicago. She would stand at his side as living proof that he had nothing of which to be ashamed.
She smiled at her own conceit that Cole needed her protection. He was a man who stood unshakably firm and dignified in the face of his anonymous detractors, and would scorn the support of a woman. Just as he’d scorn her if she ever suggested such support.
Ringing for Kate, she removed the pins from her hair and studied her face in the dressing table mirror. In a month, she would no longer be Lady Rowena Forster, but Mrs. Cole MacLean. Her old identity would cease to exist. Cole made it possible. He made it inevitable.
She shivered and looked away.
The girl entered the alley without hesitation, a plain shawl drawn over her hair and her slender form wrapped in a nondescript cloak. She paused beside a haphazard stack of crates, searching the darkness.
Tomás Alejandro Randall moved into her view, and she took an involuntary step backward.
“Faith, you gave me a fright!” she said with a quick laugh.
“You, Kate? I doubt it.” He took her hand in his and kissed her work-roughened fingertips.
She snatched her hand away and pulled the scarf from her bright streak of hair. “You’ll not be liking what I have to tell you this time.”
“Ah, but Kate–any news you bring is good if it means that the waiting is over.”
“Then you’ll be pleased,” she said. “MacLean is to leave on business to Chicago immediately after the Greenwells’ dinner party, and Lady Rowena’s to join him in Newport in a week. The marriage will take place as planned, in less than a month.”
Tomás leaned against the damp brick of the alley wall, intent on the study of his buffed fingernails, slipping easily into the character he must play one more time. The casual pose was a mask. Inwardly his heart raced with excitement, and only the practice of years kept the grin from his face.
The waiting was over. The time to act had come at last.
“You’ve done well, querida,” he said. “You’ve more than earned your reward.”
Kate snorted. “Is that all, then? It doesn’t trouble you that none of your carefully planted rumors about MacLean succeeded?”
“I would have been surprised if they had.” He pushed away from the wall and brushed off the tail of his coat. “Lady Rowena is a stubborn woman. Once she’s set her mind on something . . .”
“She’s set her mind on MacLean, sure enough, and won’t listen to any ill said of him. He could charm the birds out of the trees, that one–like a snake. But you won’t let this bird fly, will you?”
He lunged toward her without warning and seized her hands. She gave a muffled shriek as he spun her around and caught her close against him, his lips almost touching the curve of her neck.
“Would you fly away from me,” he whispered, “if you were the bird?”
“You’re mad,” she said, her breath coming a little too fast. “You truly intend to go through with this? You’ll risk your life, just for revenge–”
“Ah, you do care.” He kissed the corner of her mouth and released her. “Never fear, mi pelirroja. I live for such adventures.”
“No.” She tugged the scarf up over her head and clutched it about her neck. “You live for a past that’s gone, Tomás Alejandro, and for the chance to die.” She backed away. “I’ve played the role you asked of me. I’ve been the lady’s maid this six months, and spied for you. At heart she’s a good woman. All I want now is what you promised. I won’t be any further part of this–”
“But you’ll do one last thing for me. Will you not, mi vida?”
Her shoulders sagged. “What more do you ask?”
“Not much. Simply make sure that I am admitted to the lady’s house after the party tonight.”
“It’s a good thing I’m leaving myself, or I’d be out on the street for letting a strange ‘gentleman’ in without an introduction.”
“But you are leaving. This is your final task for me. And when it is done, the lady will fly freely enough into my golden cage.”
“God help her, then.”
“She’s lived a life of privilege, and you’ve had to fight for everything you ever possessed. Do you still find so much pity for her?”
“Yes. She’s just a pawn in your private war, rich or not.”
“A very valuable pawn, to be treated with the greatest consideration.” He reached within his vest and drew out a small, heavy leather bag. “Here’s a token of my esteem. When I come calling at the lady’s house, you’ll have the rest.”
She snatched the bag from his hand. “If it weren’t for my brother and sister–”
“At least you have family left alive, Kate O’Neill.” He looked at her and saw not a young colleen of pale skin and red hair, but the dark-tressed, dark-eyed woman who had raised him, and loved him, even when she had nothing left to live for but vengeance against the murderers of her mate. His father.
How different things might have been if they’d lived. But the MacLeans had swept into their peaceful lives and left chaos and death in their wake. Only one Randall remained.
The old sorrow returned, sharp and unwelcome. Tomás endured it until it passed. He smiled at Kate, showing his teeth.
“Whatever the MacLeans want,” he said, “I will make them pay double to get it. Whatever they gain, I will take away from them. They won’t forget the Randalls while I live.”
“And when you’re dead?”
He shrugged. “We all die, señorita. It’s a matter of when and how well.”
“Then I hope you do it far from my sight.” She turned to go and stopped, shoulders rigid. “Damn you, Tomás.”
“And buena suerte to you as well, mi amor.”
She gave a harsh laugh that made a parody of his. “You’ve seduced a hundred willing women, Tomás, and not one of them has ever touched your soul. I think this time you’ve met your match. You’ll not capture this lady’s heart.”
“It is not her heart I mean to capture. Venga, vete!”
She jerked a nod and hurried from the alley.
Tomás followed her to the street and turned in the opposite direction, drawing in the stifling scents of a New York evening. At the moment he was but one of many average men who walked the street on unknown business in this resp ectable but unremarkable part of the city. Tonight he’d be someone else entirely. And a week from now . . .
A week from now he’d become once again what the MacLeans had made him: a scoundrel, an outlaw, an enemy. He was prey to no doubts, no regrets. Only inaction and helplessness had the power to trouble him, and he was subject to neither.
Within a few hours he’d arranged two first-class fares in a westbound Pullman Palace coach and was completely familiar with every segment of the journey to Kansas City. From there, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe would take him and the lady to the very border of New Mexico Territory. Where his men would be waiting.
That was, of course, if all went according to plan. And it would. There was just the small matter of winning Rowena’s initial cooperation.
He returned to his modest hotel room and took inventory of his wardrobe. Every piece of it was appropriate to a well-bred but unostentatious English gentleman. The tailors who’d served him in the past two weeks were convinced their customer was, in fact, of the British peerage just returned from a sojourn in the Wild West.
He dressed meticulously in pristine white shirt, silk waistcoat, cravat, cream trousers, double-breasted frock coat and top hat, checked his watch, and examined his reflection in the mirror.
He knew what Rowena would see, and that she would believe the story he intended to tell her. Had she been more open to her werewolf nature, perhaps she’d have recognized him by scent alone. But he trusted that her willing blindness would make it possible for him to deceive her . . . just as long as necessary.
And then she would be his.
Read the Reviews
“ONCE A WOLF is the second book in a trilogy begun with TOUCH OF THE WOLF last year. As TotW told the story of Braden Greyburn, so this book tells the story of his sister Rowena. It’s as much a western romance as it is a werewolf paranormal, yet is not a far cry away from a historical.
Rowena is a loup garou who denies her heritage. She fled her brother and England in the previous book Touch of the Wolf to escape his forcing her to marry an American werewolf she never met, solely to purify the werewolf line. And now, she finds herself about to wed the selfsame man, of her own free will. Rowena has toned down since she fled from England. Where once there was a smart-mouthed hellion, now there is only a woman halfway to being broken, trying desperately to subdue her werewolf heritage and be a perfect lady. She knows she will never be accepted by society, or by anyone in general, if she gives in to her passionate werewolf side, so she heeds the cold words of her betrothed who tells her he agrees with her wanting to conquer her animalistic side. One man, however, has another idea in mind and kidnaps her to keep her out of the marriage. Tomas Randall, aka El Lobo, lures Rowena to the West then takes her prisoner to take his revenge on her betrothed. He has his own personal reasons for hating Cole McLean, one of which includes a family feud that migrated with the families from Scotland.
Rowena, trying desperately to stay the perfect lady, finds herself succumbing to her passionate nature and to Tomas. And Tomas, whose plan initially started out just kidnapping the woman whom he believed to be a shallow society lady and seducing her, finds himself succumbing to an awakening Rowena. In the midst of all this remains Cole McLean, who does not take kindly to having his possessions stolen from him, especially from a Randall, and is hot on their trail.
I really, really enjoyed this book, more so than the first of the trilogy. The heroine and the hero went through a normal process of falling in love; it wasn’t necessarily love (or lust) at first site. Oh, there was an animal attraction in the beginning (pardon the pun) that steadily grew stronger as the book progressed, but it grew at a believable rate, not in spurts nor suddenly at the beginning or the ending. Both the hero and the heroine had problems they desperately needed to work out. Rowena had built a shell around herself against her werewolf nature, refusing to acknowledge it and therefore losing many of the inherent powers and abilities that should have come naturally, yet still remained strong. Tomas battled with past actions he believes make him unredeemable, and therefore unworthy of a woman such as Rowena. Unlike many tortured heroes, I could understand why Tomas chose to be like he was; it wasn’t wholly unreasonable, nor overdone. He was who he was, and I sympathized.
One of my absolute favorite parts of the book were the side characters. There were many smaller characters, but three major ones stand out particularly. Weylin McLean, the brother of Cole, has to get a book for himself. Sim Kavanaugh is the epitome of a tortured hero; if Susan Krinard can do a story for him and not weaken him in any way, she will truly have a masterpiece in her hands. And Esperanza, a young girl with a powerful gift, needs her own story as much as the previous two. Susan Krinard has said she will probably be writing about the two male characters in this book, and I REALLY hope so.
All in all, I highly recommend this book. Two thumbs up, ten out of ten, five stars, etc etc etc. It won’t be coming out until July of 2000, and I’d recommend you read book one TOUCH OF THE WOLF to get a thorough handle on the background, but I definitely think that if you like tortured heroes who just happen to be powerful werewolves, this is a must read.”
“With the harsh Western landscape and a multitude of intriguing secondary characters, who add immeasurably to the storyline, this is a gripping tale as fierce as the nature of the wolf. As the explosive sequel to TOUCH OF THE WOLF, it is not a book for the faint of heart. Ms. Krinard writes with a passion unequalled in the genre, providing many fascinating twists and turns and insights. I’ve always enjoyed paranormal romances, but this one had me enthralled. I’m holding my breath for the third book in this series – Quentin’s story.”
“In the first book in this series, TOUCH OF THE WOLF, released last year, readers were introduced to werewolf, Braden Greyburn and briefly to his sister, Rowena. In the first book when Rowena learned that Braden was attempting to force her to marry an American werewolf to “purify” their werewolf lineage, she tries to put her loup garous heritage behind her and leaves England to start a new life for herself in America.
In ONCE A WOLF which is Rowena’s story, readers pick up where the last one left off. Rowena has at this point done an about-face since she fled England in her attempt to tone down her werewolf nature, instincts and urges to become the proper “normal” young lady she appears to be on the outside. Rowena desperately wants to be accepted by society, and be loved and wanted by someone–anyone. It isn’t long before Rowena finds herself engaged to be married to Cole McLean, a man who treats Rowena with disdain; convincing her that it is best to keep her animalistic urges at bay–and he, of course being the perfect person to help her.
Tomas Randall, otherwise known as El Lobo, has other plans for Rowena and kidnaps her in order to keep Rowena from marrying his life-long nemesis. Tomas is driven by hate, revenge and an age-old family feud against the McLean’s.
Tomas didn’t plan on being lured in by Rowena’s unearthly appeal. He’d only planned to seduce his enemy’s simpering fiancé’, never counting on her being so alluring and full of life. Cole McLean is not one to give up his possessions–and that’s what Rowena is “his” property. And all the while, Cole is hot pursuit of Tomas and Rowena –and will stop at nothing until he has what he wants…and that’s revenge….and Rowena.
As I read this book, I oftentimes forgot that the characters in the story were werewolves. This fascinating book reads very much like a traditional western historical romance. The appeal of several of the secondary characters, such as Weylin McLean who is Cole’s brother, and Sim Kavanagh wormed their way into my heart simply begging to have “their” stories told. Susan Krinard is truly a master of her craft! In her latest release she weaves intrigue, danger, and paranormal twists into a very real western backdrop, which makes this thought-provoking, fast-paced, character driven historical paranormal one of the best I’ve ever read. ONCE A WOLF will only whet readers appetites and surely have her fans clamoring to their local bookstores when the third book in the series is released.”
“Once again Ms. Krinard brilliantly delivers a gripping romance, turning every emotion inside out to expose all the facets of love. She holds you spellbound with her magic.”
“Susan Krinard does not disappoint her fans with this hot and romantic story of Rowena and Tomás! Excellent!”
“Loup garou, or human? That is the question… ONCE A WOLF is fascinating for its studies in the contradictions supplied by nature. Brought to life is the harsh beauty of New Mexico and the hardiness of its settlers. Flowering cacti emerge against the odds from the dry, baked earth of the Southwest. Symbols of past peoples are etched on walls that have long outlived them. And those who have been betrayed or treated poorly, in turn respond with warmth and hospitality to those who assist them.
Tomás and Rowena are equally complex and their opposing beliefs complement one another. As a tortured hero, I would have preferred seeing a little more of Tomás’ dark side, but his passion for his legacy shines through. In many ways he reminds me of Zorro – fight for the cause you believe in but remember your roots. Rowena’s progression from extreme avoidance to embracing her birthright is very well done. From slinking with her tail between her legs, she grows into a force to be reckoned with. To say much more about either of these two may spoil some parts of the story. Still, both are three-dimensional, believable characters, as are many in secondary roles.
Cole MacLean is a divine villain. He is ready and willing to use any means necessary to accomplish his goal – eradicating Tomás, the last of the Randall werewolf line. How his brother Weylin filters through the morass of lies, deceit, and betrayal is intriguing to watch. I also enjoyed Esperanza and Sim and would like to see more of them. Esperanza, Spanish for “Hope” shines like a ray of light – hard to do considering for much of the story she is mute. In contrast, Sim is so enigmatic that one wonders at times just whose side he is on.
Fans of the traditional western romance may enjoy this side-trip into the supernatural. Cowboys and outlaws combine with paranormal scenes shifting faster than a loup garou shedding clothes. Ms. Krinard has penned another enthralling adventure.
[Note: This is a sequel to TOUCH OF THE WOLF. ONCE A WOLF was formerly titled PASSION OF THE WOLF. Quentin’s story, the final book in this trilogy, is tentatively slated for Fall 2001.”
“Like Emma Craig in her Land of Enchantment series, Krinard does an admirable job of elucidating the unique beauty of New Mexico. The allure of werewolves and a Western setting will win readers.”