Attempting to run away from an arranged marriage to an abusive man, Elise Collins stows away inside a wagon belonging to a troupe of traveling performers. When Sterling Wulf, the occupant of the wagon, finds Elise asleep in his bed, he tells her to leave, but Elise relates her story and begs him to allow her to travel with them as far as Liverpool where she can find refuge with an aunt. Sterling finally agrees to let her stay if she earns her passage. Elise thinks that she will be doing menial labor for the troupe, but when she discovers that Sterling wants her to be their new exotic dancer, she is scandalized. It appears that Sterling's plan to frighten Elise into going home has worked when she reluctantly leaves the troupe while they are performing near an inn, but when Elise catches sight of the uncle who sold her to a monster, she decides that dancing is far preferable to the alternative. Sterling is both surprised and disconcerted when Elise returns, for the pretty young lady has gotten under his skin in a way that no one else ever has. The longer they are together, the more their feelings for each other deepen, but Sterling is cursed, and to allow Elise into his heart may mean the end of their love forever.
A Wulf's Curse turned out to be a surprisingly good read at a time when I really needed one. Like the first story in the Midnight Pleasures anthology, it is also a historical, but one that takes place in the Regency era. For a paranormal tale it was fairly light and easy, with a cast of very likable characters. Sterling has a mysterious air about him and is a man who holds everyone at arms-length, because of a curse that affects all the male members in his family line. In an attempt to escape his old life, he has taken up an itinerant lifestyle with a group of traveling performers, and is their Beast Tamer, working with two big cats. At the beginning, Sterling is a bit rude, but it quickly becomes apparent that he is a gentle man with a heart of gold. Elise is just the type of heroine I usually enjoy most, one who has a very sweet temperament, but is also quite spirited. I found her bravery and straight-forward honesty to be quite refreshing, and her ready acceptance of those who are different was heartwarming. I loved that when Elise performed her exotic dances in front of the crowds, she was, in her heart and mind, truly dancing for only one man, Sterling. I thought that the building of Sterling and Elise's love had a gentle, poignant quality to it with plenty of sexual tension, and their one love scene was sweetly sensuous.
The secondary characters were a wonderful band of misfits, who most people viewed as little more than gypsies or circus freaks, but they were full of heart and soul. I don't think I've ever read a more colorful bunch before. I was somewhat disappointed that the two villainous characters began with a little bite, but kind of ended on a whimper, both being fairly easily dispatched. This wasn't too surprising though, because A Wulf's Curse was primarily character-driven, focusing mainly on the relationships between Sterling and Elise as well as the two of them and the rest of the troupe. It also conveys a strong and touching message about looking into a person's heart rather than judging them for what's on the outside, in addition to acceptance of oneself.
Although Sterling's secret was fairly obvious right from the outset, it wasn't revealed until very near the end of the story. I thought this made the ending feel a little rushed with Elise and the other troupe members accepting his "difference" a little too easily, although I will admit that it fit well with the theme. Also, the ending, while happy, was not quite what I was expecting and that ties back into the inner workings of the curse which was only briefly explained. I would have liked to know more about the curse, but perhaps it will be explored in more depth in future installments of the series. A Wulf's Curse is the first story in the Wild Wulfs of London series, and my first read by the late Ronda Thompson. It is found in the Midnight Pleasures anthology. Overall, it was a very welcome and pleasant story that makes me look forward to continuing the series soon, as well as possibly exploring other books in Ms. Thompson's backlist.
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