September 1865 Castle Creeghan The Highlands It was a cold, windswept, storming night when Martise first saw Castle Creeghan. As the horses’ hooves and the carriage wheels clattered over the cobblestones of the drive, it seemed fitting to her that the night should be as volatile as the passions that had driven her here. The castle stood atop a high tor, like a monster rising from the rugged and craggy earth. Lightning cracked and sizzled around the lofty turrets. The sky lit up again after each thunder crack, and the castle became a glowing silhouette against the sky, forbidding and evil, an ancient fortress in unyielding stone. The lights in the slit windows were like Satanic, glowing eyes that watched for the unwary and waited. The drawbridge over the chasm looked like a gaping mouth, waiting to consume the innocent, and when the sound of thunder ceased, the rage of the surf, far below the rocks, could be heard slashing against the stone, railing in tempest and fury. Castle Creeghan . . . Tremors seized Martise as she watched the castle from the carriage window. The sound of the horses’ hooves was always with her, like the nervous beating of her heart. She should not have come. There was time left, still, to halt the driver. To demand that he turn the horses and carriage, and carry her swiftly southward once again. There was time, still, to end her charade . . . and run. The carriage jumped and twisted, causing her teeth to jolt hard and head to bounce and nearly hit the roof. Martise touched her head and rubbed it, clenching her teeth. Then she screamed out loud as the carriage veered wickedly, seemed to teeter, and came precariously to a halt. White and frightened, she gripped the seat. The rain plummeted and the wind screeched as the driver nearly ripped off the door in his attempt to open it. “The wheel, milady, we’ve broke a wheel!” As he spoke, the rain suddenly lessened. The wind, though, picked up to a more violent fury. Martise nodded, still clenching her teeth. The castle seemed far away now, while the darkness of the night and the ferocity of the storm seemed great and very near. Struggling with the door, the driver sought his leave to repair the wheel. She did not want to be alone. “Wait!” she cried, and he hesitated. “I’ll come out.” “But milady, it is wet, and wretched—” “The rain does not beat so hard,” she replied quickly. He was probably irritated, for his task would be compounded by her presence, but he did not refuse her. He paused just briefly, then brought down the stepladder and helped her to the ground. She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head against the soft spill of the subdued rain and the fervor of the wind. She stared up at the castle again. High within a turret window she saw a shadow. It seemed that the shadow stared downward, watching the distressed carriage. She didn’t know why, but the shadow seemed as evil and malignant as the glow of the house. Something warned her of a presence. She didn’t know what, for she heard nothing in the rain, nor did she see movement. She spun around quickly and cried out, startled, for a man stood not ten feet away from her. He had come in absolute silence, as if set before her by the eerie power of the night. “Do not be afraid,” he said, in what seemed like a whisper, carried upon the tempestuous air of the stormy night. “I am not afraid,” she lied firmly, and yet she was, for her reply was only a whisper, and her heart beat with a startling furor. For in that very instant she was haunted by the sight of him. He was tall, very tall, towering over her in a black cape that whipped with the wind, draped over tight black riding breeches, brocade shirt, and black vest. His hair, too, was as dark as his garments, darker than the night, spilling over his forehead when the wind did not lift it. His features might have been cast of stone in those first minutes, for he did not smile. He assessed her grimly, eyes of green and gold fire blazing from a face with a hard, squared jaw, long, aristocratic nose, high broad cheekbones, and dark arched brows. His age was indeterminate except that he was in his prime, for he was straight as an arrow, powerful in his stance, and striking in his appearance. His mouth was tight in a stern line, but it hinted at fullness, at a sensuality that struck at her heart. Read more. . .