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Sons of the Wolf

ManLoveRomance Press LLC

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Word Count: 124,000
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When his estranged father mysteriously dies, Noah returns to the ancestral estate on the Scottish moors, desperately wishing to recover his missing childhood memories. Once there, he is swept up in a set of odd occurrences that make him question his sanity. Something other than his half brother Andrew is waiting for his return....something ancient and unnatural.

Noah's assistant Gavin is suspicious of the sudden circumstances that have lured Noah back to Scotland, and sets about uncovering a dark family legacy filled with sinister implications. Noah and Gavin have been friends for years, but each man suffers from a damaged past that has placed definite boundaries on their relationship. An ominous storm triggers a night of passion and terror, bringing the two men face to face with the unimaginable truth on the dark and menacing plains of Noah's ancestors.

Excerpt

The cruelest lies are often told in silence.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

It had been an unusually warm day near the end of autumn, one of those days that fool you into believing that changes were farther off than the moment implied, a lull of the senses that caught you unaware. Such days could also be the harbinger of worse things to come. At any rate, that glorious sunny morning he certainly did not consider that his semi-orderly existence was about to dissolve into chaos not entirely of his making.

To Andrew Bainbridge it seemed that most of his life was not of his making. He had set about in his youth like most of the clan did, with a reckless abandon that often courted disaster as much as accolades. He had been a normal boy set loose on unwitting society; an imp of a lad out to terrorize the household with practical jokes and a less than firm upbringing in his early years.

Those days could be forgiven. His doting father had allowed his only son full privileges as only the child of a dead mother could garner, a complete freedom that had translated into the brash, headstrong folly of youth. That initial whirlwind of childhood was barely a memory. It had been replaced with other things. Darker, more oppressive things.

Lord James Wallace Bainbridge, Thirteenth Laird of the Estate and Andrew's doting father, had brought about those changes. Whether he had been aware of the scope of his actions on his then still young and impressionable son, no one dared guess. Maybe there were things at work that even he had never dared imagine. It had descended one dark and stormy night in the middle of winter and after that nothing had ever been the same. The reason why became irrelevant. One simply did not question the Laird.

Andrew's childhood had ended that night. Much of his memory regarding the event was unclear, but he knew one thing; his father had been unable to bear it. In the years that had passed since, Andrew had somehow managed to endure the depth of his father's penance. Its unyielding estrangement had shaped their existence, strangers in a self imposed prison of artificial familiarity borne out of routine.

It was beneath the guise of that familiarity that Andrew had first noticed his father's unusual absence at the hour for tea, an unbroken tradition that the house still clung to amid the disintegration of so many other things. The days of visitors, parties, and far reaching clan gatherings were long gone, banished into the silence of that night along with Andrew's childhood. Yet his father still cultivated the amenities of a Lord, at least in appearance and habit. For him to be absent when the tea was ready for pouring was as glaring an oddity as if he had been doing cartwheels through the main hall.

Knowing his father's habits, Andrew sent the servants off to fetch him from his room, thinking that perhaps he had nodded off while reading. When his discovery was not forthcoming, Andrew sent them off to search the house in earnest, the strange tingle of foreboding he had felt earlier in the day taking on a new urgency at each passing moment of silence. With the tea cold and forgotten, they split up to search the grounds next, each filled with their own dreadful excitement.

Like all major events in his life seemed to operate, it was Andrew's fate to find him. There was no reason for his father to be there, but there he lay, on his back in the center of the old pathway that led from the rear stables through the edge of the nearest woods and out into the meadow. The grass out there was long and golden, whispering in the breeze. It moved with life where his father had not.

Andrew's initial run of discovery turned into a walk of numb shock that took him at last to where his father's body lay in the fading dappled sunshine. He knelt beside the body, reaching out to confirm what he already knew-the need for urgency was gone. He remained kneeling, unaware of the passage of time.

Perhaps his father had been lured out for a walk on such an abnormally warm sunny day. Even with that change in his routine, Andrew still found it odd that he would have taken that particular path. It led to nowhere…and to the one part of the estate that his father had forbidden, the crypts and graves of the ancient family cemetery with its long unused chapel in ruins.

Andrew could see it from where he knelt, its partially tumbled gray stones scattered about on the ground, broken and motionless like his father's body. Hearing his name called brought him from his reverie and he rose to his feet. His eyes caught something stirring the tall grass at the edge of the forest but it quickly faded into the shadows, dark and low to the ground. Then his gaze spied something he had failed to see before, almost beneath his boot. He picked it up.

It was a gold crucifix, lying in the path where it had no doubt fallen from his father's dead fingers. Andrew stared at its simple detailing, nestled in the palm of his hand. His father had never struck him as a religious man. Secretive, unyielding, and reclusive, but not religious. It seemed just another incongruity in a life both strange and short.

He placed the crucifix in his pocket and called out to Duncan, who was coming down the path at a trot. Andrew merely waited, silent and tearless. Once again his life was about to undergo a drastic change with little warning or compromise.

* * *

The next few days came and went in a blur. The weather turned along with his fortune, bringing a steady rain that rattled off the windowpanes and a bone chilling wind that moaned through the old house like the wail of a banshee. Andrew was mostly oblivious to the comings and goings of the local constabulary, too lost within himself to hear what they had to say. He was, for the first time in long years, directionless.

They said his father must have died of stroke, not unheard of in a man of his middle years. They gave condolences and bemoaned the state of the weather. He shook their hands and nodded. Anything beyond that was out of his control.

A few days later-a week?-he could not say, they buried the dead Laird in the old churchyard of the village, beside the graves of his first and second wives, both dead in their youth. The rain had stopped, but there in the graveyard beside the sea a cold wind lingered, cutting through their overcoats.

No tears fell from Andrew's eyes, standing there, fingering the crucifix in his pocket. Perhaps the shock of finding his father like that had not worn off, but he knew there were other reasons. When had he become such a bitter old man at the age of twenty-eight?

Andrew didn't want to think about what was in the blue painted coffin. Who had chosen blue? Blue, the color of tranquility and innocence. Duncan probably, the man who had taken care of everything beyond Andrew's ability, even the arrangement of the private funeral with its pitiful gathering of mourners. Duncan now stood just behind Andrew's shoulder, appropriately respectful and solicitous.

What possessed Andrew at that moment to glance up at the shadowy woods at the edge of the cemetery was anyone's guess. His heart almost stopped beating. His breath froze in his throat. An empty coldness rushed up into him, taking away the sound of the priest's voice, taking away awareness of anything around him but the coldness and the single spot of blue that dominated the center of his tunnel vision.

It was a strange feeling, like no longer being in his body, tied to skin and bone and earth. Andrew's startled mind simply could not comprehend what his eyes were telling him. Standing there at the edge of the trees was a boy. A young, blond-headed boy of about eight. Who looked exactly like Noah had looked all those years ago, the first day they had ever met as children.

For that instant, that immeasurable moment in time, Andrew's world ceased to move. Then a gust of wind whispered through the distant trees and ruffled the boy's fair hair, hair that faded into nothingness, disappearing along with the figure in the moving breeze.

Blue, the color of the apparition's eyes, filled with sorrow and unknowable things.

Blue. The color of innocence.

The first clump of earth from the priest's hand landed on the lowered coffin with a thud of finality. Andrew felt the wreath of flowers he had been holding fall from his nerveless fingers. He slid to his knees and would have toppled over into the grave if Duncan had not caught him in his silent faint.

* * *

Almost a week later, Andrew sat at the desk in his father's study.

The study looked as you would expect such a room to look in a house the size of Bainbridge Hall. It was large and imposing, a room designed to showcase the man who sat at the desk amid the towering twelve-foot bookcases, flanked left and right by heavily draped windows of the same height. The ceiling was ornate plaster from which a single large chandelier hung suspended by heavy chains. Sturdy, uncomfortable chairs faced the desk, made to give no comfort to whomever the Laird and master of the house regarded from across the expanse of wood.

Andrew held the legal document in his hand. It was all there, clearly spelled out in black and white; like anything his father did could ever be explained by words on a page. He looked up at the two men sitting opposite him, his father's attorneys from an Edinburgh firm as irreproachable as it was officious. They were very serious and very accommodating, wondering no doubt how their information might be taken. Beyond them stood Duncan, leaning against a bookcase with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Did you know about this?" Andrew asked, looking over the heads of the lawyers.

Duncan had been his father's butler and manager of the house for over a decade. He had been a father to Andrew more than his own father had been for years. More than a servant and less than family, he resided in the not always comfortable space in between.

"I was never privy to the inner workings of the Laird's mind," Duncan said with ambiguity. "Where Master Noah was concerned there was simply no room for discussion."

Simply no room for discussion. That pretty much summed up his father's view of everything regarding his life and, more especially, that of his sons. While Andrew had no idea how Noah would react to the stunning revelation, he had no doubt about his own reaction; pure rage. For a moment he simply shook from the amount of control it took not to lash out with blinding anger at the others in the room. They were not the object of his black fury.

He dropped the paper on the desk. It was an impressive double secretary desk, its shiny dark surface worn down with age from countless years of use. Its many drawers were stuffed with letters, ledgers, books, and papers from his father and his grandfather's time as Lord of the Estate. The heavy bronze seal, official family symbol of right and privilege, set in its time honored place to his right, used by countless hands in duty to the estate for hundreds of years. At that very desk, in that very room.

"Lord Bainbridge," one of the lawyers said, using Andrew's new title. "This hardly changes anything."

Andrew kicked himself back from the desk with such vehemence that both of the men almost jumped from their seats. He stood slowly, trembling with rage.

"It hardly changes anything?" he repeated in a voice that dripped sarcasm and venom. "You are correct. It will not give either of us back twelve years of our lives. It does not offer a single reason for any of these…these…" He stopped himself, almost apoplectic with rage and grief.

Andrew could still remember the shy little boy peering at him from behind his mother's skirts that first day when Noah and his mother had come to live at the ancient manor house. Andrew accepted his new brother and for a while they enjoyed each other's company, the very picture of an ordinary, happy family. When Noah's mother died in a tragic accident everything changed almost overnight. For reasons of his own, Lord Bainbridge sent Noah away to boarding school and then a special private music school, where the years passed while the boy grew into adulthood. Andrew never understood why his step brother had been sent away, and although he had pressed his father for answers, he never received any that he considered sufficient.

Time passed and their relationship became one of inconvenience, practically strangers. While he imagined that Noah's life had been lonely, his own had faired little better. His father had pushed the both of them away and turned into a recluse of sorts, a haunted secretive man until the day he died. On that day the estate and the title passed down to Andrew, current Lord of Bainbridge Hall.

"Sir, your father's will provides for your brother. If he agrees to the stipulations, I see no-"

Andrew turned on him with a snarl. "My father was a cruel, controlling tyrant who liked to play with other people's lives. He liked it so much he is still trying to control things from his grave. He didn't know either of his sons but he made certain that both of our lives have been hell."

The men cringed at his words, refusing to look him in the eye. His father no doubt had paid them more than enough money to keep his secrets all these years. Now the title, the estate, and the secrets were Andrew's.

"Stipulations," Andrew spat, sending the papers flying with a sweep of his hand across the desk. "I know exactly what Noah will say. He will tell you to go hang! Now get out of my sight!"

They scurried to comply without another word, Duncan opening and closing the door with their exit. He remained in the room as Andrew collapsed into his chair with an exhalation of disgust. With the objects of his ire removed, the rage that had crackled through the air moments before faded into depressive silence. Andrew shook his head.

"What happened to us, Duncan?" he asked without expecting an answer. "Where did it all go so wrong?"

"You are not responsible for your father's decisions," Duncan told him. "You are the Laird of the Estate now. Your own decisions will shape your future."

Andrew sighed. Somehow he still doubted that. "I suppose Noah will be getting this filthy thing soon enough."

"The will and its supporting documents have already been dispatched, I believe."

Andrew shook his head again. God, what a way to be told such things. Lawyers really had no idea of the effect of words on people's lives. He could hardly imagine being in Noah's shoes.

"Find out where Noah is, will you, Duncan?"

"What are you going to do, sir?"

"I'm going to ask him to come home, if he wants to. Do you think that selfish of me?"

Duncan's thin lips twitched. "No, sir. I shall set about it, right away. Anything else, sir?"

Andrew looked at him. Impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit with one manicured hand resting on the doorknob, Duncan looked every inch the well trained, reliable butler that he was. His black eyes were unreadable, but the hint of a smile still curled the corner of his mouth.

"Can you stop calling me sir?" Andrew asked with a smile.

Duncan's lips widened only slightly but a spark flashed in the dark eyes. "No, sir," he replied and with a twist of the knob was gone from the room.

The smile slid from Andrew's face as if the muscles were unfamiliar with such an expression. He bent and retrieved the scattered documents from the floor. Alone, he began reading the last wishes-commands-of his father in their entirety, aware that he had already set into motion the very thing that his father had tried to prevent.

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