Touch of the Wolf

Touch of the Wolf
Historical Werewolf series  —  Book 1
Bantam (October 5, 1999)
ISBN-13: 9780553580181 ♦ ISBN-10: 0553580183

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From the acclaimed author of Prince of Shadows and Body and Soul comes the first novel in a powerful new trilogy, the story of a noble clan whose elegance belies a savage secret–and a man who sill stop at nothing to preserve his family’s dynasty forevermore . . .

Braden Forster, Earl of Greyburn, has devoted his life to restoring the purity of his clan’s werewolf blood. He spent years searching in vain for a distant American cousin, a woman whose wolf bloodline is a vital link in his family’s heritage. Braden had thought Cassidy Holt was lost forever—until she appeared one rainy night on the steps of his London mansion . . . her raven hair in disarray, her skin scented with sunlight and sagebrush. As Braden whisks young Cassidy to his family’s secluded country estate, both can sense their undeniable attraction. But Cassidy soon learns that they can never satisfy their mutual passion; Braden has already betrothed her to another. Her only hope of claiming the one man she’ll always love is to unravel the dark and lustful secrets of his past . . .

Read an Excerpt

Touch of the Wolf

Cassidy opened her eyes to unfamiliar darkness and held very still, listening for sounds of lapping water and the rumble of the steamer.

But the smells were not of brine and sea air, and the noise was nothing so peaceful as the sea. She lay very still and retraced in her mind the long road that had brought her here, to the hotel in Victoria Station and the heavy stench of a London night.

It had all been like a dream from the moment she’d left the ranch where she’d spent the last fifteen years of her life–left behind a place that had never been home and people who were glad to see her go. Her father’s kin, who could never understand or accept her, because within her ran Edith Holt’s wild blood.

The blood of those she’d come so far to find.

She thought back to the long trek westward from New Mexico Territory to California, rationing out what little money she’d scrimped and saved for herself over the years. She had been immersed in a flood of alien sensations from the moment she boarded the crowded coach in Las Cruces. Her narrow experience of the world–a world of sagebrush and creosote and mesquite, desert heat and cattle and adobe–had been forever changed by the time she reached the train in Colorado. Not even her carefully preserved books of poetry and tales of romantic adventure could prepare her for what she found in the bustling railroad towns, nor could she imagine anything else so vast and daunting.

Until she reached San Francisco, and searched out the address she had memorized so long ago. Only instinct and stubborn determination had led her through the maze of streets and buildings to find the one person in all the world who could help her.

Isabelle Smith, her mother’s friend, who had made the rest of this journey possible. And now they were both in London–a place bigger than San Francisco, bigger even than New York, which Isabelle had said was America’s greatest city. Immense, seething, impossible to escape even in sleep.

Cassidy sat up and looked at the dim square of the window. It must be near midnight, and yet the constant din and clamor from the streets below had hardly lessened. If she went to the window, she’d see the carriages rattling up and down the cobbled street, on their way to and from places with names like Belgravia and Mayfair.

It was “the Season,” Isabelle had explained, a time of parties and constant activity in this fashionable part of London. The people in the neighborhood were wealthy or titled or important in some way. It was the sort of place where the earl of Greyburn might live.

The earl. A lord, like knights in the old stories–a kind of man unlike any Cassidy had met in all her life. He would be powerful, and noble, and far too grand for the likes of Cassidy Holt.

But he was a Forster. He was on the list Cassidy had memorized when she was seven years old. He was family.

And tomorrow they would find him. But tomorrow was already today. The long years of waiting were over.

She swung her legs to the floor and glanced across the darkened room to the matching bed where Isabelle slept. Her delicate face–surely as beautiful as the Blessed Damozel of Rossetti’s poem–was soft with sleep, and Cassidy felt a rush of affection and gratitude. Isabelle had been Mother’s friend, and now she was Cassidy’s. She was a real lady, just like those who rode in the carriages below. And she had been born in England. She, too, had come home.

 

Home.

Cassidy crept to the window and pushed it open, sifting the thick fog for a single familiar scent. There was a place of growing things in the midst of this endless city: they called it Hyde Park, and she could smell it, along with the other cramped, walled-in spaces the English made for their gardens. Far stronger were the odors of horse dung, and smoke, and the tang of stale water from the great river to the south. As far as she could see were buildings like ugly square cliffs above deep, noisy arroyos, marching row upon row until they were lost in the endless haze and darkness.

She wondered how anyone could bear to live among those cold canyons. The hotel walls seemed to close in around her, and she remembered with longing the clean, austere beauty of the desert, unfenced and untamed.

But in New Mexico she had been alone.

A shiver of anticipation caught hold of her like an unseen hand at the back of her neck. They were waiting for her, out there. She could feel them. A silent call hung in the heavy damp air, half-remembered like the soft cadence of her mother’s voice. The voice of the loups-garous. The language Cassidy yearned to make her own.

Isabelle had taught her something of city ways on the journey to England; here, a young woman didn’t travel alone. Isabelle would never approve the thoughts that raced through Cassidy’s mind.

Touch of the Wolf

But Isabelle was fast asleep, and Cassidy knew how to move quietly. At night she could walk unseen, undisturbed by the throngs of people who made the streets impassable by daylight.

She could follow the call. She had to.

She hesitated in choosing her clothes; there was the plain broadcloth traveling dress Isabelle had bought her, but she couldn’t move freely in it. Her calico dress–the only one she’d owned on the ranch, saved for special occasions–wasn’t the kind of armor she needed to venture forth into the unknown.

She murmured a quiet apology to her sleeping friend and pulled on the denim trousers and old shirt she’d hidden from Isabelle’s critical eye. Isabelle had made her give up the battered work hat; she tucked her hair on top of her head and tied it back as best she could with a bit of ribbon Isabelle had left on the dressing table.

It wasn’t difficult slipping out the door and past the few people in the hall–hotel staff and guests about late night business. She found a side staircase and followed her nose to a narrow door far from the grand main entrance.

In a few minutes she was out in a small alley. It was very dim and heaped with refuse, but she found her way to the main street, pausing at the corner. A row of streetlamps illuminated the way for passing carriages and made her choices clear.

To the north was the odor of grass and trees and water, to the south the great river called Thames. It was much broader than the Rio Grande, she’d heard, but no farmers worked its banks in London.

Somewhere, starting on this very street, lay the path to her future. In New Mexico she’d been able to trail a rabbit over miles of scrub and desert. All she needed was a sign, a track in this trackless place, to show her the way.

She closed her eyes and wished with all her heart.

The answer came as a thin, elusive wisp of scent that grew steadily more distinct, rising above the heavier odors like the cry of a hawk in a thunderstorm.

She could not have explained how this one scent, so unlike any she’d encountered before, made her heart pound and her breath come short. It was extraordinary, like a flower blooming out of season in the desert. Unique. Compelling. And yet . . .

She knew it. It was the dream made form. It was life. It was herself.

And as she stood frozen in amazement, the scent began to drift away, fading beyond her reach.

She stepped into the street and caught the trailing end as if it were a rope snatched from her hand by a cranky maverick. North; it was leading her north, and the source was not far ahead.

She could not lose it. She was the best trailer and tracker on her uncle’s ranch; none of the other vaqueros even came close to her skill. Under the sallow glow of the streetlamps she followed the scent at a run, barely aware of passers-by, unnoticed because she wished to be.

The one she sought was unmistakable. When she found him, she knew.

He walked by himself, head down and gaze bent on the street ahead as if he expected all obstacles to melt from his path. He was tall, and broad-shouldered; he wore a coat and hat and carried a cane, and his stride was sharp and purposeful.

Cassidy had seen men of every kind on her roundabout journey to London. Tall men, short men, handsome and plain, high and low, rich and poor, gentle and cruel. But always as human as the people she’d known in New Mexico.

 

He was something else altogether.

Touch of the Wolf

It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see his face and didn’t even know his name. The need within her was strong; it was a wild thing in itself, the part of her that longed for awakening. It was too powerful to resist. She had no choice but to follow this man, this familiar stranger, as she would follow her destiny.

He was entering a wide square, with neatly clipped lawns and hedges and isolated trees and rows of grand houses, all very much alike, on every side.

The wealth of fine carriages and handsomely-dressed people told Cassidy who lived in these houses. It seemed right that her stranger should belong among them. He walked up the steps to the entrance of one of the houses, and after a moment the door opened and he stepped inside.

Cassidy crouched behind a shrub and rubbed her palms on the worn knees of her trousers. The poets spoke about things like Fate and Destiny. Maybe they had something to do with why she was here, at this place and time.

Isabelle would be horrified at her situation, if she knew. But Cassidy couldn’t turn back now. She was working up the nerve to cross the street when a carriage drew up in front of the house, a sleek vehicle with spirited horses and a driver and a uniformed man who leaped down as the carriage came a stop. Her stranger emerged from the house again, and the uniformed man held the carriage door open for him.

By the time the coach moved away Cassidy had already made her decision. She let the coach gain a little distance ahead, and then ran after it. She could run for miles, if she had to. A slight drizzle had begun, a wetness that soaked her clothes and skin. She barely felt it.

The coach followed a curving street out of the square and moved onto a wider lane, flanked on one side by iron-fenced gardens. Cassidy remembered Isabelle pointing it out to her as Buckingham Palace, belonging to the Queen of England. But the carriage moved past, to a busy intersection that took all of Cassidy’s concentration to negotiate. Then they were alongside Hyde Park, the biggest open space Cassidy had seen in London, and turning east on a narrower street, once more boxed in by rows of tightly packed houses.

It was more difficult to hide herself here. There were many carriages, people getting in and out, entering the houses and leaving them amid bursts of laughter and faint music. The house where her stranger’s carriage stopped was the busiest of all, brilliant with light, guarded by costumed men who bowed to the guests as they came to the door.

Once Cassidy had thought her aunt’s and uncle’s friends and acquaintances, attending their frequent parties, very splendid in their fancy storebought clothes. Cassidy had often watched those gatherings, to which she was never invited, through the windows of her uncle’s adobe hacienda, and envied the ricos inside. She knew that she, in her patched and dusty work clothes, would never be one of them.

The people here moved as if they wore such rich and gorgeous clothes every day, as if they’d never known the feel of dirt under their bare feet or mended a hole in a pair of stockings.

Not one of them were as magnificent as her gentleman. He stepped out of his carriage and paused, head lifted, and she saw his face in lamplight.

He matched the promise of his scent in every way. His bearing was that of a king, his dark clothing perfectly tailored over a sleek, strong body.

His face was breathtakingly handsome. Under his hat a single lock of gray hair draped down across dark, imposing brows. His mouth was mobile, his nose long but not too big, his chin square and strong.

But it was his eyes that arrested her. They were green, the rich color of life like the desert after a good rain, slightly tilted above high cheekbones. They had the power to pierce the darkness, and if he were to turn and look her way . . .

“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,” she quoted silently. That was the image that came into her mind. He burned very bright indeed. His nostrils flared as if to scent the air, a hunter about to spring. Authority and power radiated from him like heat from desert earth, flowed like a spring that would never run dry.

A spring with the gift to restore life at the end of a long and perilous search; a magical well that could answer all her questions.

In New Mexico, when the questions and unfulfilled needs had become almost too much to bear, she would run far out into the desert and stand under the moon and howl until her throat was raw. She felt like howling now, so she bit her lip and sank deeper into the shadows. But caution could not still the excitement that convinced her that she knew this stranger as well as herself–that if she dared walk into the light he would open his arms and carry her off to his magic kingdom . . .

He turned away from her, unseeing, and walked up the stairs of the house. He spoke to the costumed men, who bowed low and ushered him in. The remaining man looked right and left and followed, leaving the doorway deserted.

Cassidy knelt beside the scant cover of a low iron fence and glanced toward the street. There was a lull in the comings and goings of carriages and people; the guardians at the door were absent. She dashed up the steps, paused at the door, drew in a breath and pulled it open.

The grand hallway she entered was empty, but she felt that was only a temporary condition. Those costumed men were sure to return. She could hear music plainly now, and many voices echoing down the wide staircase that rose to the second floor. It was obvious where her stranger had gone.

She couldn’t see any other way to follow but go up those same stairs. At least her shoes were new and wouldn’t dirty the polished perfection of the marble steps. Cassidy pressed herself to the banister and hurried up the stairs, listening for the shout that would bring her adventure to a humiliating stop.

But she made it to the top of the stairs unseen. She had a feeling that there should have been more people on the landing; a sense of anticipation hung in the air, and it came most of all from the open doorways across from the stairs. That was where the music and voices were loudest, and where the two costumed men lingered, looking into the room but not entering. A woman in a black dress and white cap joined them, whispering excitedly.

Something was about to happen. Cassidy abandoned caution and moved up behind the spectators in the doorway. The scents of close-packed bodies and perfumes and flowers was overpowering, yet she knew her stranger had passed this way only moments before. The woman with the cap glanced at her in surprise, but Cassidy smiled and met her gaze, and the woman’s attention slid away.

Cassidy crouched and found a clear view into the room between two pairs of white-stockinged legs.

The first thing she noticed was the vast number of people, squashed into every part of the room, between potted plants and artificial columns and in every corner. The music came from the far end, emerging from behind a row of shrubs; the players were nearly invisible.

Touch of the Wolf

Then she saw her gentleman. He stood just inside the door, minus his overcoat and hat, very still. His hair, she saw, was not gray at all, but a salt-and-pepper mingling of black and white. As she watched he seemed to sweep the room with his gaze, fixing at last on one particular spot just out of Cassidy’s sight.

That was when it became very quiet. The hum of voices and the laughter trailed off as heads in the room turned, one by one, toward Cassidy’s gentleman. The hush itself had a life of its own, ominous and stern. Someone tittered and was cut off instantly. The music died with a whimper.

It was because of her stranger. Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright. They were staring at him, a sea of pale faces above gorgeous costumes, the lustrous colors of the ladies and blacks of the gentlemen. They stared as if they had never seen him before.

Her gentleman began to move. He walked forward, slowly, with a grace and authority as much a natural part of him as his brilliant eyes. Magically the crowd parted in his path like so many half-wild calves dodging a vaquero with a branding iron.

Cassidy craned her neck to see the object of her gentleman’s interest. A small cluster of women were gathered in the far corner of the room, so bunched together that Cassidy couldn’t tell one pale, rich dress from another.

But one of the women was subtly different from her companions, and Cassidy knew she was the object of the stranger’s interest. The lady was a few years older than Cassidy, with a slender figure and a striking if not beautiful face crowned by golden hair. Her white, nearly bare shoulders gleamed in the soft light as if she had stepped out of the pages of one of Aunt Harriet’s fashion magazines.

Just as Cassidy’s gentleman was about to reach her, an older and much stouter woman intercepted him. She spoke in a low, pleasant voice pitched for him alone, but her body in its heavy gown all but shouted fear. Cassidy’s gentleman only hesitated for a few seconds, murmuring a short string of words to the older woman. She fell back, visibly shaken.

Abruptly the young blond woman stepped away from her friends, chin high and back very straight. Cassidy’s gentleman met her in a circle of silence, and they stood face to face, alike only in the air of absolute control that each possessed.

 

“Rowena,” Cassidy’s gentleman said, his voice deep and assured, as smooth as velvet and cold as a desert night in winter. “It’s time to come home.”

The lady didn’t answer, but her face might have been carved like the statues Cassidy had seen in the hall. Without haste she turned back to her friends, touched hands and spoke with the faintest of smiles. Then she returned to Cassidy’s gentleman, who offered his arm. She took it, barely resting her gloved hand on his sleeve.

The silence lasted until they were halfway back across the room, and then the murmurs started up again, hushed whispers that gradually gained volume as the ladies and gentlemen flowed back into the empty space.

“Blimey! I’d never o’ believed it. The earl ‘imself, ‘ere, givin’ ’em all a fright. And the lady–”

Cassidy remembered the men standing above her just as they stepped hastily back out of the doorway. The one who’d spoken stumbled over her before she could scramble aside, and he stared down in blank amazement.

“‘Ere, now, who’re you? What’re you doing in ‘ere?”

He made a grab for her, but she shook him off and sprinted for the stairway. On the way down she passed several other soberly dressed men and women, but none of them were fast enough to stop her.

She flung herself out the door and pelted down the stairs, looking for a place to hide. She found a sunken alley to either side of the stairs, partly surrounded by an iron railing. She braced herself and jumped, landed on her feet and backed into a shadowed alcove.

But her pursuer must have been otherwise occupied. After a moment Cassidy heard voices, and she knew her gentleman was leaving the house in company with the lady. She angled for a better view and watched them make their way to the waiting carriage.

She lingered in hiding until the doors to carriage and house were safely shut, and the carriage had started off. Then she sprinted after the carriage as she had done before, praying that the man clinging to the rear platform behind the wheels didn’t notice, and that no one else would try to stop her.

But even as she ran, her thoughts kept returning to the way her gentleman had looked among all those proud and fancy folk, the way he’d dominated the room just by standing there.

And who was the lady he’d claimed so boldly? She was a match for him in every way, splendid and proud. Not a tigress to his Tyger, but . . . a Snow Queen, cool and regal.

Cassidy shivered in her wet clothes. It wasn’t too late to stop and make her way back to the hotel. The carriage was retracing its path to her gentleman’s house; what would she do there? Follow him inside?

Yes, a rich inner voice sang out, vibrating in her blood and bones. Yes.

Still she hung back as the carriage turned into the square and stopped before the gentleman’s house. She was safely hidden behind a shrub across the lane before the Tyger and his lady were on the front steps. They were bowed through the door by the costumed man who’d accompanied the coachman, and then Cassidy was alone in the London night.

She knew what Isabelle would say at this moment. She had an idea of what was proper, and how things were or were not done among these folk. She knew she was only a drab, skinny girl wearing boy’s clothes, a scraggly desert mouse in a nest of elegant tropical birds. But her inner voice was not to be denied. It was her mother’s legacy; it was her destiny.

Touch of the Wolf

“Ask me no more,” she whispered, “thy fate and mine are seal’d: I strove against the stream and all in vain: Let the great river take me to the main: No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield . . .”

She was getting to her feet when powerful fingers seized her arm and swung her in a circle.

She gazed up into the face of her Tyger. His green eyes were mere slits, his face grim and forbidding.

“Who are you?” he demanded, the velvet gone from his voice. “You’ve been following me.”

She was mute, gone from startled to sizzling in his presence. “I–”

He jerked her closer, nostrils flaring. “You’re one of us,” he said. His mouth twitched, and he lifted his free hand to touch her face. “Impossible. I would have known–”

It was all Cassidy could do to keep her feet as his fingers traced her jaw, her cheek, her ear. She had the crazy thought that maybe she was back in the hotel, and this was a dream, cruelly unreal. She was afraid, yet fear was the smallest part of the emotions that set her whole body trembling. She was speechless, struggling to pull from memory a line of poetry or fragment of some fanciful story that would explain her reaction to his touch–the incomprehensible joy of feeling him only a heartbeat away, freeing all those half-familiar and somehow terrible needs that she’d never dared let loose. . . .

“You’re one of us,” he repeated, and there might have been wonder in his words if not for their harshness. His grip tightened, and his breath stirred the flyaway tendrils of her hair. “Who are you?”

“C-Cassidy,” she whispered.

He gazed at her with that piercing stare, green eyes like her aunt’s treasured emerald. “Cassidy who?”

“Holt,” she choked out. “From America. Cassidy Holt.”

She was so lost in him that she saw every subtle change in his expression: the relaxing of his mouth, the parting of his lips, the softly withdrawn breath, the way the line between his dark brows smoothed out. His hand fell to grip her other arm, and he held her as if he would devour her like the Tyger he was.

“Cassidy . . . Holt,” he said. “You’re alive.”

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Read the Reviews

“Bantam star Susan Krinard returns to her werewolf roots to spin an absolutely thrilling tale of a young American girl whose inexpressible yearnings lead her back to England and into the heart of a man who has sworn never to love again. . . . With deceptively simple prose, Ms. Krinard catches you up in the hopes and fears of an intriguing gaggle of characters as she creates a compelling, unforgettable romance of two lonely people who finally discover that loves holds all the answers.”

— Melinda Helfer, 4 1/2 Stars from Romantic Times

“TOUCH OF THE WOLF, the first book in an exciting series about werewolves, takes place in England and Northumberland in 1875. Tiberus Forster, an unbending man who uses fear and intimidation to rule the entire race of werewolves, teaches his eldest grandson and heir, Braden Forster, about “The Cause.” Stipulating arranged marriages within the order and disallowing any breeding with the human race, this plan is necessary for the future welfare of the werewolves. It is also vital that Braden retains his leadership and heir status, even after he becomes blinded by mysterious circumstances.

In America, Cassidy Holt’s werewolf mother dies before she is able to teach her young daughter how to change into werewolf form. Cassidy hasn’t seen her father and brother since they disappeared years ago, so she is alone in the world. After she discovers the existence of English relatives, the Forsters, she is prepared to seek them out, but unexpected events prevent her from doing so for fifteen years. When Cassidy and her mother’s friend, Isabelle, finally travel to England, they meet Braden and his siblings, the twins Quentin and Rowena. The relationship between all the siblings is strained… and sometimes outright hostile. Arrangements have also been made for the twins to marry designated partners, a situation which they find quite distasteful.

Once at Grayburn, the Forster country estate, Cassidy is disturbed by the fact that Braden rules the townspeople and his servants through fear in order to gain their loyalty. She cannot escape the fact, however, that she wants o be a part of Braden’s life. Cassidy and her warm, innocent, loving ways begins to change the lives of everyone around her. She gradually gets through to Braden’s tortured, haunted soul, and he is forced to admit his feelings for her, as well.

I am a lover of paranormal romance, and Susan Krinard’s sterling reputation as an author made me eager to read this story. It definitely stood up to my expectations. I found TOUCH OF THE WOLF to be a vividly emotional, fast-paced read. Braden won my heart, and as I became more deeply drawn into the characters and story line, I didn’t want the book to end. I look forward to reading the next installment in this series, which I understand will be the twins’ story.”

— Pat Cavender, 4 Rating from Bookbug on the Web

“TOUCH OF THE WOLF is a mystical, enthralling read, brimming with lyrical prose, powerful emotions, dark secrets, and shattering sensuality. Susan Krinard brings the world of the werewolf to life in a riveting and believable way.”

— Eugenia Riley, bestselling author of BUSHWHACKED BRIDE

“TOUCH OF THE WOLF is Susan Krinard at her best. A fascinating tale of beasts and beauties, love and betrayal, werewolves and humans, men and women, TOUCH THE WOLF is a natural extension of the themes Krinard handles so well. Susan Krinard is a vivid, talented writer with a sparkling imagination, and TOUCH OF THE WOLF is full of wonderful surprises.”

— Anne Stuart

“Cassidy Holt Forster possesses special qualities, but with no one to show her how to “change,” she can not take advantage of them. Raised by an uncle following the death of her parents, she reaches her majority and sails to England on the first step of seeking her real family, the family Forster – the loups-garous. Cassidy’s heightened senses unerringly lead her to Braden, Earl of Greyburn and chief of the Cause. He becomes her “Tyger! Burning bright,” her love, her life, but betrayal is no further away then a heartbeat and the pain of loss can become too much to bear.

Controlled by his imperious grandfather, Braden embraces the Cause until it dominates his entire life, making it impossible for him to see people as anything other then pawns in the race for survival of the loups-garous. Cassidy is a sweet, fresh, breath of air that blows into his life, but Braden attempts to squash every advance by her to bring light and happiness into his dour existence. Betrayal lodges in his heart, having taken-up residence with the death of his first wife, and refuses to be unseated until the specter of the grim reaper again appears on his doorstep, issuing a threat that if fulfilled will leave him howling mad and forever insane.

TOUCH OF THE WOLF slides down like fine Brandy sipped before a warm fire. Written with a credence that brooks no questions, nor leaves any unanswered, the story of the Werewolf intrigues, enchants, and ensnares, until you sit long into the night to turn the last page. Characters of substances and depth populate the story and drive a plot both complex and mysterious. Clues leak like the slow drip of water to offer glimpses into the past, binding the reader tighter into the grip of the novel. Sensuous and steamy, the romance between Cassidy and Braden torches the night with fiery splendor and lights the way to an ending that leaves you breathless. Susan Krinard crafts a tale with masterful writing and faultless research, offering readers a rare glimpse into a venue not often broached.”

— Kathee S. Card