WARNING: Contains explicit adult situations
Lady Rebecca seems to have a perfect life. A doting father, a man who loves her. But all that changes when a dark stranger enters her life and people begin to die, horribly. When fingers point toward her as being responsible, and thinking her love lost forever, Lady Rebecca finds herself forced to make a choice- wed a man she despises or be destroyed by the villagers, who distrust her because she has "The Power".
Lady Rebecca's choice leads to a centuries long search for Damien, the ark Sorcerer to gain vengeance for what he did to her and those she loved.
England, c.1217 AD
"All in all, a good winter," Sir Garwain said to his old friend as they sat in the Great Hall of Thorne Castle. "One can only hope that the harvest will be better this year than last."
Sir Vincent Thorne was only half-listening to his old friend as he watched the two young people begin to move across the room in their direction. "Indeed."
Garwain grunted. "Of course, you have nothing to complain of, my old friend. Your farms were the only ones to prosper last year."
"Only because I insist that the tenants switch crops between them so that the land is not used for the same thing every year. I have tried to tell you that, Garwain."
Garwain followed Vincent's gaze. "Ah. The young lovers," he said as they came within earshot. "You would never realize it by his apparent lack of interest when here, Vincent, but my son is an amazing manager when we are at Charington Castle."
"Perhaps he has - other things - on his mind when he is here," Vincent speculated, his brown eyes shining as they looked at his raven-haired daughter.
"I should hope so, sire," Rebecca said with a smile. "We see each other so infrequently-"
"That will change," Garwain assured the girl, also smiling. "And you should take more of an interest in the running of this estate as well, my son. There will come a time - far in the future, one would hope - that you will have need to manage it for Rebecca," he told the young man at her side. "Once you and she are married-"
"At which point Rebecca and I shall be able to be together every day," Stephen Charington pointed out, "and I will be better able to keep my mind on other things. I came to ask your permission, Sir Vincent, to take your daughter for a ride. It is such a lovely spring day."
"Enjoy yourselves," Vincent wished, his smile widening. As they moved away, he noted again how perfect a couple they were – Stephen, tall and fair, and Rebecca, also tall, with her raven's wing tresses.
"How old is the Lady Rebecca now?" Garwain asked.
"You know very well that she will be eighteen in a month's time."
"Of course," Garwain admitted. "My son is counting the days until she can become his wife."
"It seems only yesterday that she was born," Vincent said with a sigh. His wife had died in the child's birth, never knowing her daughter. And Garwain's wife had died of a fever a year later, leaving her husband to raise their son alone. "I suppose we have not done too badly, have we?"
"No," Garwain agreed. "Not at all."
Stephen dismissed the groom back to the stable, and now sat at Rebecca's side, watching as she placed pigments on the parchment she took everywhere with her. "I should have expected this, I suppose. I shall have to get used to it once we're married."
"Expected what?" she asked, looking at him.
"That although we spent a month apart, all you can do now that we are together is to make pretty pictures."
"Pretty pictures?" she questioned, her dark eyes flashing with anger. "Is that all you think about my painting, Stephen Charington?"
He laughed, leaning nearer to place a quick kiss on her red lips. "I love making you angry. Your eyes almost glow," he told her, looking into those eyes. "They are like twin deep pools that a man could lose himself in."
"And do you want to lose yourself?"
"Oh, yes, my love. Most assuredly." He moved back only enough so that she could return her pigments to their case, and once she was done, he started to pull her closer, but she surprised him by pushing away and rising to her feet in one graceful motion. She ran across the glade, her laughter following, beckoning. "Why, you little vixen," Stephen called, in immediate pursuit. He caught up with her, and pulled her into his arms, intending to stop her laughter with a kiss, when he realized she had gone very still. "Rebecca?" He realized she was staring at something behind him and turned.
A magnificent black stallion, ridden by a stranger, had come to a stop across the glade. Even from that distance, Stephen could make out the man's black hair and dark-as-night gaze. "It is only a stranger, my love," he tried to reassure Rebecca as the rider turned his mount in their direction.
Rebecca did not speak, merely stood as if transfixed. Normally a friendly woman, her reaction troubled Stephen. She appeared frightened. And it took a great deal to frighten Rebecca.
The stranger reined his horse to a stop within feet of the couple, his eyes fastening on Rebecca. "Excuse me, am I going in the correct direction for Thorne Castle?"
When he realized she was not going to answer, Stephen responded. "Straight through the copse, my good man. Do you have business with Sir Vincent?"
"Perhaps," he said. "Thank you for your assistance. Good-day." That black gaze was even more piercing at close range, and Stephen found himself wanting to protect Rebecca from its sight.
He moved to place an arm around her shoulders. "Good-day, sir."
Rebecca watched until horse and rider had vanished on the forest path, then drew a shuddering breath. Seeing Stephen's look of concern, she tried to smile, knew that she failed.
"What is wrong, Rebecca? I have never seen you react in that fashion to anyone - stranger or not."
"I could sense…"
He knew the story, had sworn never to tell anyone - especially not his superstitious father. "What did you sense?"
"Evil," she said, shuddering again. "There was a - darkness - about him. Hold me, Stephen. Please hold me."
He drew her into his arms, hoping to keep whatever she feared at bay, to protect her.
The stranger was sitting with Sir Garwain and Sir Vincent in the Great Hall when Rebecca and Stephen returned. Her father beckoned them over. "Dameon, allow me to introduce Sir Garwain's son, Stephen, and my beloved daughter, Rebecca."
His dark gaze again fixed upon the young woman who stood at the young man's side, and Dameon said, "These were the two young people about which I told you."
"Yes," Stephen confirmed. "He stopped in the glade to ask directions to the castle."
Rebecca lifted a shaking hand to her forehead. "If you will excuse me, I am not feeling well."
Vincent and Stephen were immediately concerned. "Are you ill?" Vincent asked.
"No, I am… fatigued. I will ask Genevive to bring me a cool cloth. I will be all right," she reassured him, trying to smile. "Thank you for the ride, Stephen."
"It was my pleasure," he responded, holding her hand for a long moment, then releasing it to watch her climb the curving stairway.
"Did she appear ill while you were riding?" Vincent asked him.
"No. She was quite well until-" he paused, aware that Dameon's dark eyes were now on him. "Until we returned."
"She will be fine, my boy," Garwain assured his son. "Females often become ill for no reason. Is that not correct, Vincent?"
"Not Rebecca," her father said. Then, recalling that he was ignoring his newly arrived guest, he turned to Dameon. "You were about to tell us the reason for your visit?"
"Yes. You have all heard about the young woman in the village who died a week ago?"
"Such a tragedy," Garwain said, shaking his balding head. "She had only just married as well."
"Yes," Vincent confirmed. "She had been Rebecca's maid until she wed."
Dameon's black brows rose in surprise. "I was unaware of that," he said. "There have been other – incidents - in the area, and some of the village folk have begun to fear that there is evil at work. They tended to ignore it until the young woman's death, as many are wont to do-"
"Such nonsense!" Vincent exclaimed. His comment was echoed by Stephen.
But Garwain, to his son's disgust, was interested. "What kind of evil do the good people think is about, my good man?"
"They do not know," Dameon said, spreading his hands. "But they sent for someone knowledgeable regarding such things."
"You?" Vincent asked, suddenly concerned for the young woman up in her room.
"I have had some success in discovering the source of evil when it strikes out, Sir Vincent."
. "There are no such things. It is still nonsense. People create their own evil out of fear or hardship," Stephen insisted. "Excuse me, I think I shall retire to my chamber."
Dameon watched the young man climb the stairs as Garwain shook his head. "Forgive my son, Dameon. He does not yet understand the way of the world."
"There is nothing to forgive," Dameon assured him.
Sir Vincent rose. "I must go and make certain that Rebecca is well. I shall return."
Rebecca was cold. Even with the fur robe she had donned, the bedchamber was still cold. She went to the hearth and knelt, stirring the ashes from last night's blaze, but there were no embers left to spark anew. Calling for a servant would take too long, she thought with a sigh, and focused her energy on the kindling she had placed in the grate. Just as it caught, she heard her father's quickly drawn breath. "What are you doing, child?"
She turned to see him close the door with quick, nervous movements. "It is cold in here, Father. There were no embers. I thought that it would be acceptable - just this once."
"What if I had been a servant? Your maid?"
"I sent the fool away, Father," she told him with a scowl. "She fusses too much. Who is that man?" she asked suddenly, placing the last log on the fire.
"He is the reason you must not do anything else such as this," Vincent told her, indicating the now roaring blaze. He told her why Dameon was there, saw her frown.
"Why is he at the castle? And, if he did not know that Abigail was my maid-"
"It is only natural that he would come here seeking a place to stay, child." He placed his hands on her shoulders. "I cannot turn him out."
"I know. But I do not trust him, Father. There is something - dark - about him."
Vincent was more concerned about the danger to his daughter than in how she perceived the man. "Will you give me your word that you will do nothing else that could create trouble while he is here?" He did not like asking her that; he normally did not try to prevent her using her God-given gifts, but there were many who would see them as gifts from the Dark instead. Especially now that Dameon was here, looking for someone with just such abilities. Vincent had seen this sort of hysteria before, would not allow his daughter to fall victim to it. "Your word, daughter?"
She smiled at last. "I give you my word, Father. Where is Stephen?"
"He went to his bedchamber."
"Oh. I think I shall go up to the parapet before the sun sets." She slipped off the fur robe.
"I am pleased that you are feeling better," he told her, his eyes not as shadowed by fear.
Rebecca stood near the edge of the stone balustrade, surveying the land around the castle. This was her sanctuary, her place to hide when things became unbearable. She caught a movement on the lawn below, and looked down to see Sir Garwain and Dameon walking, deep in conversation.
"I am very interested, Dameon. Pray do continue."
"Among other things, I am able to see whether two people are well-suited," he told the gullible man at his side.
"Amazing. Tell me, what do you see when you look at my son and his bride-to-be?" He was smiling, as if he suspected that Dameon would tell him that he foresaw many long happy years for the couple.
Dameon pretended discomfort. "Well, sire-"
Garwain's smile vanished. "You see something bad? Ill fortune? What is it, man?"
Dameon hesitated a moment longer, trying to frame the words, as if uncertain how much to say. "I see… only tragedy should your son marry the Lady Rebecca, Sir Garwain," Dameon said apologetically.
"I fear so. Do not ask me more, I beg of you." Dameon sensed that he was being watched, and looked upward.
Rebecca met that gaze with her own until she felt herself falling forward. "Rebecca!" Stephen called, rushing to grasp her waist and pull her away from the edge. She looked up at him, then quickly led him away from the edge. It was unstable, uncertain of any weight more than Rebecca's. "Are you all right?"
She nodded, turning into his arms. "I saw him down there. In the courtyard. He looked up at me and I felt myself falling," she shivered, and not from the cold this time.
"Your father sent me up here. He said he had spoken to you."
"Yes. Oh, Stephen. I wish we could be married now. Today."
He smiled down at her. "My father will not hear of it. He has everything arranged - and it is only a month, after all," he reminded her.
"A month can be an eternity," she said softly.
"No. The eternity will begin after we are wed," he promised, his lips finding hers. He sighed once the kiss ended. "I suppose you will not want me to come to your chamber tonight."
Her smile was shy. "Please. I do not want to be alone with - that - that man here. I shall not be able to sleep. Please, Stephen-"
He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "You realize that if our fathers discover that we have anticipated our wedding night-"
"I love you, Stephen. I have since I was five years old."
He kissed her again, knowing that he would find a way into her bed after darkness fell, to again feel her next to him, feel her sweet softness accept his manhood. He knew that his father would never believe that he himself had been the instigator of their intimacy, would insist that Rebecca had seduced his son. "I find myself hoping for nightfall," he admitted ruefully.
Rebecca laughed softly, her hand drifting down to lightly brush against the evidence of his need. "So I see."
"Shameless wench," he whispered, kissing her again, this time allowing his lips to follow a path downward to the rise of ivory skin above her breasts. "I think I shall spend the first week of our marriage in bed," he told her.
"That sounds terribly - decadent," she whispered, holding his head against her. She went still. "Stephen-" Before she could say more, warn him, the door into the tower was flung open and Sir Garwain stormed onto the parapet.
"I should have known," he said, flushed with rage. "You have allowed this – wanton - to seduce you. Go to your chamber, Stephen."
"No, Father," Stephen said, standing before Rebecca in an attempt to protect her from his father's mistaken accusation. Dameon was hovering just behind his father, watching. "It is not her doing."
"You will not protect her, Stephen. We will be leaving tonight."
"What is going on here?" Vincent demanded to know, appearing in the doorway.
Garwain turned to him. "I found my son and your daughter in a most intimate embrace, Sir Vincent. She has seduced him, convinced him to begin a physical-"
"You will remember that you are in my home, Garwain, and speaking of my daughter." He held out his arm for Rebecca to come into his protective hold.
"I will stay in this house no longer," Garwain announced. "Stephen and I shall depart as soon as possible."
"I will not go, Father," Stephen said again. "Rebecca has done nothing wrong."
"I am doing this for your sake, son. Marriage to her will mean your death."
Rebecca gasped, looking at Dameon, who was standing back, a silent observer to the events which he had created.
"My death? Wherever did you get such an idea?"
"There will be no marriage, Sir Vincent, and as of this moment, Charington Castle is no ally of yours."
"Father, I will not leave. Rebecca and I will be married, even if I must remain here and give up Charington-"
"We will leave, Stephen. Come."
He turned to Rebecca with a tight smile. "I will not leave you, Rebecca." He looked back to his father. "We cannot begin the trip home tonight. The roads are not safe. Wait until morning, and we can discuss it then."
Garwain refused to listen to his son's voice of reason. "There will be nothing to discuss. I do not want to give her another opportunity to get you into her bed."
Rebecca fainted into her father's arms. Stephen spun, his face red with fury. "I hold you responsible for this, Father. Rebecca is the innocent in this. It was I who convinced her to allow me into her bedchamber on our first evening here, and it was I who took her to bed. She was uncertain of the advisability of our actions, but I convinced her not to wait. I love Rebecca, Father, and I will marry her - with or without your blessing." He turned to follow Sir Vincent to Rebecca's chamber.
Vincent and Stephen stood in the corridor while the maid helped Rebecca undress and get ready for bed. She had regained consciousness before reaching her doorway, and her father had practically pushed Stephen from the room before him. Now, Stephen swallowed nervously under that intense brown gaze as he confronted the older man. "I ask your forgiveness, Sir Vincent. My only excuse is that I love your daughter with all of my being."
Vincent searched his face before placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I understand, Stephen," he said.
Garwain approached a bit sheepishly. "I should apologize, I suppose," he said. Stephen was relieved to see no sign of Dameon's dark presence. "I do not know what got into me. I suddenly felt convinced that Stephen would be in danger if he married Rebecca - I know it was a foolish idea. How is she?"
"We are waiting to see her," Vincent said.
"I think I will go to my bed, it has been a long day." He looked at his son. "And it might be advisable for you to remain in your own chamber this night."
Stephen was about to agree when Vincent spoke. "What difference does it make, Garwain?" he asked. "They have already been together, and I intend to send for the priest tomorrow to sanctify their union." He looked as if he expected Garwain to object, but he did not.
"A good idea. If there is a child-"
"Precisely." His eyes narrowed as Garwain departed and Vincent turned back to Stephen. "Had that thought occurred to you?"
"Yes, it had," he said honestly. "But since Rebecca and I were to be married in a month, I saw no problem." The chamber door opened and Genevive stepped back for Vincent and Stephen to enter, then departed the room.
Rebecca was sitting in her bed, her dark hair now loose and draped over the pillows. She smiled uncertainly. "I am sorry if I worried you. It is just - everyone was talking so loudly, and he was there, watching me."
Vincent sat on the edge of the bed, taking her hand. "I am just grateful that you are well, my daughter. I intend to send for the priest to marry you on the morrow."
Rebecca looked up at Stephen, confused. "But - what about your father?"
Vincent's smile was grim. "Sir Garwain has relented and apologized - even for thinking you responsible for - other things," he said.
She looked down at the coverlet, picking at the wool threads. "But in a way, I am. I could have called for Genevive, and I did not do so."
"None of that matters now." He kissed her goodnight and rose. "I will tell Genevive that you will not be needing her again tonight."
"Thank you, Father."
"Goodnight, child." He closed the door behind him softly.
Rebecca continued to pick at the threads. "You are going to damage that blanket," Stephen warned, sitting beside her.
"What is happening, Stephen?" she asked. "I know that Dameon had something to do with the things your father said, told him you would die if we married. I do not want that to happen, Stephen," she said, tears on her cheeks. "I would not wish to live if it did-"
"Shh, my darling. Nothing is going to happen to me. I intend to spend the next forty years here at your side."
She looked up at him. "Do you mean it?"
"Let me prove it," he said, lifting her chin to gain access to her lips.
Rebecca looked worried. "Stephen-"
"I have your father's permission to be here. After all, we are to be married tomorrow," he reminded her. He rose and went to slide the bar on her chamber door, locking the rest of the castle out, then returned to her waiting arms, burying his face in her long hair.
When Stephen's page entered his master's bedchamber the next morning, he immediately ran to Sir Garwain's room. Disturbed from slumber, Garwain opened the door with a surly frown. "What is the matter, Eric?"
"It is your son, sire. He has a fever-"
Garwain pushed past the boy, going down the corridor to enter his son's room. Stephen's face was flushed, his eyes glazed. "Stephen?"
"Rebecca. Where is Rebecca?"
"Stephen, it is your father." When there was no response, only continued muttering about Rebecca, Garwain called the page again. "Eric!"
"Fetch Dameon here." When the boy hesitated, concern for his young master etched in his face, Garwain very nearly bellowed. "Do not dawdle, boy. Now!"
Vincent came to the doorway, entering the room with a question. "Is there something wrong, Garwain?"
Garwain rose slowly to turn and face his host. "My son is ill - and I hold your daughter responsible."
"Rebecca? Is she ill?"
"She is the cause of this," Garwain insisted. "If only I had not relented, left last night. I knew he should not have gone to her, that she would work her spell-"
"Have a care, Garwain," Vincent said in warning.
Dameon entered the room and went directly to the bed. "The page informed me of Stephen's illness." He looked down at the young man, touched his face. "He is very ill-"
"I will send for the physician," Vincent offered, only to be cut off by Garwain.
"No. I will take my son out of this house and call my own physician to attend him."
"You would take him on the journey back to Charington while he is so ill?"
Rebecca hovered in the doorway, her dark eyes wide as they focused on Stephen. "Stephen? Father, what is wrong with Stephen?"
Vincent turned to her, to explain, when Garwain spoke. "As if you had no idea. What have you done to my son?"
"Nothing," she said quietly, "except love him. Please, Sir Garwain-"
"Rebecca?" Stephen called weakly, lifting his hand towards the sound of her voice.
"I am here, Stephen," she said, starting forward, only to be prevented from doing so by Garwain's hand.
"Stay away from him. Have you not done enough?" He looked at Vincent. "I would request that you have our carriages readied immediately."
"Immediately," Vincent agreed. "Will you be going as well, Dameon?"
"I think not. I have… unfinished business in the village."
Rebecca's gaze moved from Stephen to Dameon, then she turned and ran back to her bedchamber, bolting the door behind her. She went to the small window, and before long saw several men carry Stephen out to place him inside the carriage where he was joined by his father. Rebecca sobbed, fearing that she would never see her love alive again.