Home > Wanton for the Wolven King

Wanton for the Wolven King
Author: Kristen Strassel

Chapter One




“We have received a letter from the Queen.”

Phillipa could hardly be bothered to look up from her botany book when her sister Bernadette rushed into the sitting room of Woodhaven Manor and made the announcement. She was fresh from a successful Season and was enthusiastically planning, in her words, “the wedding of the year”.

Everything had been of the utmost excitement to her. It had become exhausting. But even Phillipa had to admit, a letter from Her Majesty herself was quite impressive.

Her mother gasped. “What would be the reason for such an important letter?”

Mother was almost as excited as Bernadette about her impending nuptials. As a widow, it was very important that all three of her daughters married well.

If the Queen was involved, that was even better.

Bernadette pouted. “I’m not sure yet. Margaret wouldn’t give it to me. She said it should be read in the presence of everyone in the house.”

Phillipa looked up from her book and grinned. She wasn’t surprised to find Bernadette’s cheeks were flushed from the cool, damp air on this rainy day, and she had on her favorite yellow dress, just back from her visits. She’d been insufferable since being promised to the Count of Cornwall. Everyone in the house had taken to giving in to her every whim, and Phillipa was proud of Margaret for making her wait to hear the news with the rest of the family. As the family nursemaid, she had always been more of a disciplinary figure in their lives than their mother. Mother had been very involved in the Church, even more so since her husband had passed away, and sometimes, Phillipa felt like she took more after Margaret than her actual mother.

Regardless of the excitement over the letter, the possibility of it being for Phillipa was nonexistent. She’d ignored all her letter writing since her wedding, which she’d politely asked everyone at Woodhaven Manor to kindly stop talking about. A pile of congratulatory cards from the cursed event sat untouched on her desk, since Lord Andrew Wesley, the Duke of Chelmsford, disappeared on their wedding night.

Now she preferred to spend her days working in her garden, reading botany books, and waiting for news of the duke’s return.

“It must be about my upcoming wedding.” Bernadette reached for the letter and gasped. “What if the Queen plans to attend my wedding? We must start planning accordingly.”

Margaret tucked the letter close to her body. “It is addressed to Phillipa.”

Bernadette and Mother gasped.

Phillipa couldn’t have heard Margaret right. Her heart pounded in her chest as she put the book down carefully, making sure none of the leaves or dried flowers she used as placeholders fell out, and rose from the worn velvet chair that had become her favorite since she’d returned home. It was right by the window and overlooked the garden, the only place that offered her any peace in the bustling home.

Phillipa didn’t miss the way her mother winced. She could practically read her mind. Why would the Queen send Phillipa, of all people, a letter?

“It must be a mistake,” Bernadette said. “I can’t imagine that Her Majesty would confuse me with Phillipa.”

“It’s for the duchess.” Margaret beamed at her as she held the letter out. She was the only person, besides Phillipa, who believed that Wesley could still be alive. She’d comforted her on those first awful days when she’d returned to Woodhaven, staying with her in her room, and received all the updates, which never delivered the news Philippa had hoped for. And when Mother had insisted that Phillipa go to London with her and her sister for this year’s Season, or get sent to the Royal Hospital, it was Margaret who stood up for her, staying behind so Phillipa would not have to attend a second Season amidst scandal and mystery.

It’s time to move on, Mother had said when Phillipa refused to go. If he was alive, he would come for you.

Oh, how that had stung. But Phillipa couldn’t shake the feeling that it was much more complicated than that. If he was able to come for her, he most certainly would.

Her mother wanted to see her married, and taken care of. She understood that. But the hostility she faced in the midst of her mourning broke her heart. She needed time. She was not ready to give up on her husband yet.

Margaret had put her job on the line many times standing up for Phillipa. For that, she would do anything for this woman.

“What if it’s about Wesley?” Phillipa’s hands shook as she held the letter. “Perhaps he’s been found.”

Her mind raced with the possibilities. Where could he have been? Was he well? Maybe she was being brought to him. She could imagine running into his arms and never letting him go.

“Phillipa,” Mother sighed. “Wesley is not coming back.”

Tears pricked Phillipa’s eyes. Ever since she’d returned to Woodhaven without her husband, she’d done nothing but disappoint her mother. She thought the books were foolish, the garden was beneath her—filthy work for servants, she said.

Phillipa felt like she no longer belonged in her family home.

The letter was crisply folded, the finest parchment. The weight of it, with its impressive royal seal, confirmed it was indeed a message from Her Majesty. Phillipa’s fingers shook as she slid the letter opener under the fold, holding her breath as she passed under the seal, hoping to keep it intact.

The Queen wanted to speak to her. The Duchess of Chelmsford.

So many emotions flowed through her veins. If Wesley had been found, this would not be the way they told her. He’d been pulled away on their wedding night before they had a chance to share a bed. To consummate their marriage. It was a technicality her mother and sister used to insist that she wasn’t really married. That she should have participated in the latest Season.

“What does it say?” Margaret clasped her hands together.

“Dear Miss Phillipa Willoughby—” The Queen did not refer to her as the Duchess of Chelmsford. That wasn’t a good sign. Her voice trailed off, her heart sinking into her stomach as she read the rest.

She blinked rapidly, hoping it would change the words on the parchment. Make them mean something else.

“What does the Queen say?” Mother asked as she approached. “Is it news about Wesley?” It was the softest her voice had sounded in months.

Phillipa shook her head; oh, how she wished she could say yes. Even if it was bad news. Closure would have been better than this message from Her Majesty.

Bernadette snatched the letter from her.

Her sister’s eyes widened as she read the letter, and she cleared her throat before reading. “Dear Miss Phillipa Willoughby, on account of your preference for plants and stones over people, your unconsummated marriage, and your complete withdrawal from society, Her Majesty has deemed your Season a failure.”

“What Season? I’m married,” Phillipa cried. “I already have a husband.”

“Your marriage is incomplete in the Crown’s eyes,” Mother said. “It’s been a year, Phillipa. He’s not coming back. If his family wants to retain the fantasy that he’s still alive, they are welcome to do so. But the longer you agree with them, the more complicated things will become for you. I again urge you to consider an annulment.”

Phillipa shuddered. If she refused the annulment again, it would most definitely be followed by a threat to admit her to the Royal Hospital.

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