The Homeward Heart

 

Prologue


     The old Gypsy matriarch looked up at the man who stepped into the light of her campfire.  His features were carefully hidden beneath a hooded cape and he tendered no name, but Magda knew his identity.  In truth, she had been expecting him.  The cards had foretold it.  And even if they hadn’t, she would have known his kind by the demanding arrogance in his stance.

     It amused her how the nobility shunned her people by day, only to seek out their women by night—the young girls for sexual favors, the older ones to prophesy the future.  Usually Madga silently spat upon their hypocritical souls while gleefully taking their coins.  But not tonight.

     Motioning the man to a seat, the Gypsy woman continued to slowly stir the black kettle; time was of little consequence.  The man snorted derisively and fumbled in his cloak for a gold coin, certain that she was stalling for a fee.  But Magda shook her head.

     “I take no fee to foretell a man’s doom,” she said.

     The man recoiled as though he had been slapped.  The low, flat tone of her voice lent an air of foreboding to her words that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

     “Explain yourself, old hag!” he demanded shrilly.  “Dare you to tell me I have no future?”

     “Nay, everyone has a future, if only for a few minutes,” the Gypsy answered matter-of-factly.  “Some are rewarding; others are to be feared.  Whichever the case, ‘tis by one’s own design.”

     The man shifted uncomfortably.  “What say ye of mine?”

     The old crone cackled. When the potion began to boil, she took five leaves from a pouch and threw them into the pot.  As she watched the particles float into position to show the tally of his deeds, she felt a bone-chilling coldness sweep through her body.  This was more than she had been prepared to see.

     The pale moon hung heavy in the sky, momentarily obscured by wispy clouds.  In the distance, shouting could be heard as men danced wildly around a fire, raising flaming pitchforks high in the air to ward off demons and witches.  With a certain amount of irony, Magda noted that this was All Hallows’ E’en, the night when every kind of evil spirit roamed the earth . . . and one sat before her now.

     The man grabbed her arm.  “What is it old woman!” he demanded anxiously.  “What do ye see?”

     The hood of his cloak fell back, and Magda looked deep into his eyes. The leaves and the vision had not misled her, and she shrank from the cruelty she saw in his dark, hawklike features.

     “I see much blood on yer hands . . . blood ye shall ne’er wash free . . . blood to which ye must soon answer,” she replied.  “And I see another who yearns to place the cloak of death about yer shoulders.”

     Roger Thornton, the Duke of Lyndeforde, abruptly stood to pace the clearing, his agitation apparent in every step and in the nervous stroking of his chin.  Even in the dim firelight, Magda could see that he had paled.

     He suddenly yanked the Gypsy to her feet and shook her like a rag doll.  “Who seeks my death!” he shouted.

     “There are many who wish to see ye return to the devil, but ‘tis not death I see,” she whispered raggedly.

     “What then!”

     “One shall deal ye the fate ye deserve as the days end the May.  The name ye will know then.”

     “Ye old crone, ‘tis ye who shall see the devil,” hissed Thornton. 

     As his fingers closed tighter and tighter around her neck with cold deliberation, Magda’s eyes opened wide, then rolled back in her head.  When her body went limp, the duke released his hands and let her slump to the ground.  Pulling the hood over his head, he left in the darkness from whence he had come. 

THE HOMEWARD HEART


England 1750



          Rorie Shelbourne yearns for adventure beyond the confines of her small village. Beautiful, strong-willed, and clever, she prides herself on being able to control any situation with her keen wit and sharp tongue. When Cameron Deveraux bursts into her life, she soon finds that her weapons are useless against the darkly handsome and seductive sea captain from the colonies.

          As Rorie is drawn into a world of danger and intrigue where nothing is as it seems, a Gypsy woman warns her that there are two forces afoot—one she must avoid; the other she must not fight. Struggling to understand the cryptic message, Rorie begins to fear that the mysterious sea captain who stirs her senses and inflames her passion has a nefarious purpose in bending her to his will. But is he the force she was warned to avoid?

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