Blessed Ostara to All!
And Easter and Passover and Ramadan, too.
An etching by Thomas Rowlandson, English artist and caricaturist of the Georgian Era, depicting Easter Sunday promenaders getting caught in the rain.
The denizens of Lowell Hall observed the holidays of the ancient Romans, with respect to their Alpha Alfred, Duke of Lowell, whose lupine shapeshifting roots reach all the way back to Romulus and Remus.
Ostara plays a part in A Due at the Door, or at least Ostara Eve does, when the Lowell pack take the opportunity to run the cursio, in which every species shifts out of their human skins and run as one in their Shapes.
My Tabitha, ever in search of knowledge and new experiences, wishes to see it even though O'Mara, the pack Omega, advises against it. It's generally a mistake to tell Tabitha that she ought not do something...
Newly arrived from traveling abroad for a decade, Lady Apothecary Miss Tabitha Barrington has been charged — by a personage no less than the Prince of Wales — to restore the Duke of Llewellyn to health. As a shapeshifter who refuses to Change into his lion form, his life is in danger. He strikes a bargain with Tabitha: take the attention off of him at the Sunday meal in Lowell Hall, and he will owe her a favor of her choice.
The company are gathered for drinks in the drawing room, and Tabitha attempts to hold up her end of the deal, with dubious results.
“I have a habit of defaulting to health topics no matter what the circumstances,” Tabitha explained. “To the dismay of my brother.”
“It is always illuminating, if not always comfortable.” Timothy and Tabitha burst into laughter as one, and Tabitha cringed a bit at the politely inquiring faces that met their mirth.
“Timothy, we are rude. Apologies, all, my brother and I are somewhat rough around the edges for an English social setting. We adopted less stringent manners abroad. We are little better than feral.” A cough issued from near the hearth. “Or not as feral as some.” Good Lord, what was she saying? Even Llewellyn looked at her askance.
“I am thrilled to thank you in person, Your Grace, for our beautiful cottage.” Timothy addressed the Duke of Lowell, covering her faux pas as usual. “And Your Grace, of course.” He bowed his head to Felicity. “We received a wealth of linens just last week, and in turn, we sent Miss Mossett off with all our mending.”
“Oh, she is a wonderful seamstress,” Felicity said. “She tailored Miss O’Mara’s waistcoat herself.”
“Did she?” Timothy eyed the garment with interest.
“Miss Mossett was shocked to hear how much we paid for such services in Italy,” Tabitha added. “Timothy is engaged on a barter with her, as she seems keen to learn.”
“She is keen about everything.” Felicity’s smile was fond. “The preparations for the cursio at Ostara have her in alt.”
Llewellyn froze at the front window, his fingers clutching the frame. Once again the company held their breath; they were so attuned to his distress, Tabitha did not know if it was helpful or harmful. “Ostara?” Tabitha asked, stumbling over the pronunciation.
Timothy set aside the sherry he had hardly touched. “Would that be a festival of some sort?”
“It is the lupine celebration in observance of spring,” Lowell explained. “It aligns with the homo plenus celebration of Easter.”
“There is to be a bonfire, and then all versipelles will Shift and run through the park.” Felicity peeked at her husband through her lashes. “It is a common aspect of our practices, but it was not observed at Lupercalia.”
“Due to the ducal wedding taking precedence.” Lowell’s husky tones brought a blush to his bride’s cheeks.
“Are outsiders permitted to witness this event?” Timothy asked.
“The cursio is…rather daunting for those who are not Shifters,” O’Mara said.
“I will only be present for the lighting of the fire,” Felicity admitted, “and then must wait for my husband in one of the cottages in the park.”
“Is it important to the health of the pack?” Tabitha asked. “To Change as one?”
“It is a practice we wolves have bequeathed upon all in our care,” Lowell replied. “Our smaller species do not feel the need to Shift as often as, er, the rest of us.” Another frisson of unease shuddered through the assembly.
“This sherry is lovely,” Tabitha all but bellowed; she saw Llewellyn hesitate in his pacing and blink at her.
Felicity gestured to Tabitha’s glass, and Mr. Coburn refilled it with alacrity. Oh dear, perhaps Tabitha ought to slow down, but the rooster—yes, he was a rooster, look at that comb of hair on his head—was so eager to serve, she hated to thwart him. “It reminds me of Córdoba,” she continued. “We had arrived there after a journey made arduous by garrulous company and more than one broken axle, and our landlady greeted us with glasses of the most exquisite amontillado. Its making is far more complex than that of the sort found in Jerez and, well, it was delicious.” She cut herself off—why would those who did not drink the stuff be interested in its making?
“And the brother of her husband’s cousin-in-law provided us with casks for our entire stay,” Timothy said, “due to the fact the distiller became enamored of—” Tabitha tilted her chin to her shoulder and shot him a look from beneath her lashes. “Oh, never mind. I shall refrain from sharing the anecdote. My sister has spoken—or grimaced.”
The last thing Tabitha wanted recounted was the story of Senor Garcia’s ardent pursuit of her. “Do forgive us, we have spent so much time in each other’s company—” Tabitha began.
“We have an entire lexicon of facial expressions,” Timothy finished.
“How I longed for a brother or sister,” Felicity said. She turned to Llewellyn, and a threatening rumble emitted from the Welsh duke, whose pacing increased in speed. The air in the room compressed in the way it had in the prince’s presence, and Timothy trembled as it peaked then faded.
Tabitha guessed Lowell was the origin of the disturbance, likely in protection of his wife. “I understand you have a sister?” she asked him.
“I do.” Lowell nodded his gratitude at the diversion of the subject. “Lady Phoebe Blakesley. She has been away from us for some time.”
“Abroad, in the United States of America.” Felicity reached out and took her husband’s hand. “I have yet to meet her.”
The duke smiled at his duchess. “We are striving to bring her back.”
“I am sure she is eager to be brought.” Timothy sighed. “We ever yearned for home.”
Speak for yourself, Tabitha thought. She was saved from uttering an anodyne sentiment by the strike of the gong, the sudden sound of which nearly sent Llewellyn out of his skin.
"A playful mix of humor, fantasy, and Regency romance conventions, this genre-bending novel introduces a well-constructed world filled with distinctive and endearing characters." - Publishers Weekly
A Wolf in Duke's Clothing is the first instalment in The Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde series, available now from all good booksellers!