The second book in Allen’s Regency shapeshifter series is,
like the first, A Wolf in Duke's Clothing, an enjoyable combination
of subgenres, fully devoted to the tropes of both. The book moves effortlessly between paranormal lingo and Regency touches;
the dialogue is clever and funny.
An excerpt from A Most Unusual Duke
Beatrice is the widow of a feral Lupine Shapeshifter and thought she knew everything there was to know about the strange race of animal-people. Upon her marriage to Arthur, Duke of Osborn, she discovers she wasn't fully in the know after all...
While the ground floor of the manor was fairly respectable, what little Beatrice had seen could do with improvement. The reception room in which she had taken the duke to task was not designated as such, primarily due to the fact there was no one to receive. Was its purpose to contain a single footstool? Or merely to provide the cluster of spiders free rein to weave their webs?
Upon repairing to the kitchen, she was introduced to Mrs. Porter, the cook, bullish in aspect yet content in demeanor, and two housemaids. Ciara and Glynis were both small, dark, and if not elderly then at the very best aging. They tilted their heads at her, showing their necks, a custom she knew demonstrated respect by creatures of their kind. It was done now, however, with greater reverence than had any in Adolphus Place.
The maids painstakingly set the table for tea. Beatrice had assured them that there was no need to stir up another fire elsewhere, that there was nothing like a kitchen for homeyness. There was no other room fit to sit in anyway.
Beatrice took a sip of the brew Mr. Conlon laboriously poured out. She selected a slice of shortcake and reveled in its light and buttery texture. “This is delicious, Mrs. Porter.”
“That’d be Ciara’s doing,” said the cook. “She’s a dab hand with the baking.”
“Well done, Ciara. I am not apprised of His Grace’s opinion, but baked treats are my weakness.” The butler waxed lyrical on Master Artie’s sweet tooth as Beatrice made inroads into the shortcake. He cut himself off as she reached for the teapot and served her once more.
“Thank you, Mr. Conlon.” She brushed her fingertips on the scrupulously clean serviette. “I am impressed beyond measure by the care you have taken of this house. I see there is much left to do to bring it up to scratch. What of the lands? Is there a steward or chamberlain in His Grace’s employ?”
“No need for either since there’s no one to live in the cottages or tend the fields,” Morag said.
“There is a need now, at the very least to restore Arcadia to its true stature,” Beatrice said.
“I shall call upon Mr. Todd, then, to take stock of the park and the surroundings.”
“Some use he’ll be, raiding the hen house.” The housekeeper smirked.
“Hush, Morag,” Mr. Conlon scolded. “You know the law.”
“The law?” Beatrice’s query was met with expressions showing a mixture of trepidation and appraisal. The women turned to the butler, who undertook the responsibility of explaining.
“I take it you are aware of our difference to you?” His voice was gentle, and she nodded.
“Among ourselves, we know who is who—” Glynis began.
“—and what is what,” Ciara finished. “But even then we would not be so rude as to ask.”
“We’re not to tell a human but under special circumstances,” Mrs. Porter added.
“Like as when a homo plenus marries one of us,” Morag said. “I’d call that special, I would.”
Beatrice looked at each. “Are you not wolves?”
The staff gasped as one. “Wolves!” Mr. Conlon’s sleepy eyes widened. “Good lady, no. We are as many as there are animali puri.”
“That’s the common or garden sort of creature,” Morag explained. “You may discern a versipellis’s true nature from certain characteristics, and you may speculate, but private-like.”
“Indeed. I do be passing slow, for example. My sort are.” The butler’s head retracted in and out of his shoulders. “For I am a turtle!” His little face crinkled with glee, and he clapped his tiny wrinkled hands.
“Ah!” Beatrice experienced delight for the first time in many days. “I vow to honor and respect this knowledge, Mr. Conlon.”
“Wolves!” Morag exclaimed. “I am a moorhen, ma’am.” She puffed out her impressive chest.
Mrs. Porter proved to be a cow and the maids mice.
“This is unexpected.” Beatrice took in the open faces before her. “All in Adolphus Place were wolves, from the marquess to the boot boy.”
“That is a very old-fashioned way of going about things,” Mr. Conlon said. “As the years have passed, many the like of us turtles and hens and pigs and mice have pledged our loyalty to a mightier species, and we are the safer for it.”
What then was the duke that he should reign as Alpha? She would not reveal her ignorance of his creature.
How embarrassing he had not deigned to tell her.
How frightening he may be more dangerous than a wolf.