Author: Jane Jordan
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Beekeeper’s daughter Annabel Taylor grows up wild and carefree on the moors of England in the late 1860s. A child of nature and grace with an unusual ability to charm bees, Annabel follows in the footstep of her mother Lilith, a beautiful witch. With her closest friend and soulmate Jevan Wenham by her side, Annabel’s life is a life filled with wonder and curiosity. But Jevan, the son of a blacksmith, lives his life on the verge of destruction, and his devotion to Annabel probes the boundaries between brutality and deep desire, passion and pleasure. When Jevan leaves Exmoor to pursue an education in London, Annabel’s world shatters. Devastated without Jevan, Annabel is sure her life is ending. But everything changes when she crosses paths with Alexander Saltonstall. The heir to the Saltonstall legacy and son of Cerberus Saltonstall, the wealthy landowner of the foreboding Gothelstone Manor, Alex is arrogant and self-assured—and enamored of the outspoken Annabel. Even though the two are socially worlds apart, that doesn’t stop Alex from asking, or rather demanding, Annabel’s hand in marriage. But when Annabel refuses, she is forced into an impossible situation. To further complicate matters, Jevan is back—and so are those same desires, that same passion and intensity. But nothing is as it seems, and Annabel and Jevan are in grave danger. At risk of being ensnared into the dark legacy of the Saltonstall family, Annabel faces the ultimate test. Will her fledgling powers be enough to save those she loves most? Can she even save herself?
Chapter One – Gothelstone Village – 1698
The crowd surged forward, straining their necks to get a better view. Venomous whispers carried ominously through the air, and the words on their lips were full of condemnation. Most of the villagers played their part in this madness. Only a few, saw through the falseness, they prayed silently and held back tears of sorrow. This small number hoped their presence might be of some comfort, they had not come to gloat or gain satisfaction at the spectacle. They came to witness the injustice.
Morning dew was still evident. With the earlier mist nearly gone, weak sunshine penetrated through low hanging cloud, throwing a subtle light across the young woman’s face. Her breath came in sobs, clearly audible to the people closest to her. She could not control the trembling of her body or the cold stark fear that caused sweat to run down her brow. Long dirty streaks, caused by earlier tears, marked her skin. Her hair, which was matted and long, obscured her face further. Her eyes darted amongst the villagers as disbelief invaded her mind.
There was no justice in the world, and she could not leave on these terms. Lifting her head higher, she shook the hair out of her eyes and stared at the restless crowd in defiance. Reality was before her and fear numbed any more emotion.
From the back of the crowd, a figure pushed through to stand before her.
A coward. She thought, as his eyes refused to meet hers. After a few moments pause, a sudden hush came over the gathering. Then, her accuser’s voice filled the cold stagnant air with terrifying prose from the indictment.
Accusing murmurs mounted, and bile rose in her throat. She stared blindly into the mass, unable to believe they so easily succumbed to the lies. These people were neighbors and friends she had known them all her life, yet, even their betrayal paled into nothingness, compared to her mounting hatred for him.
His voice was booming in her head, drowning out any other noise or sensible thought, his intention to intimidate and threaten. It was incredible that he appeared to be a complete stranger to her now. No longer the man she once loved. As more lies spilled from his mouth, the gnawing sickness of moments before vanished. With his provocation enraging her further, something altered. Her mind let go of the fear, and replaced it with pure unbridled hatred.
In spontaneous effect, she pulled harder against the chains. They were unyielding just as before. In the mob, a few called upon their God to have mercy. It was an illusion; their pious cries did nothing to conceal the suspicion in their eyes.
Another man approached, his identity was of no consequence. Her gaze tore from her accuser and rested upon the fiery torch the other man held. He came closer. The breath caught in her throat, terror rendered her body rigid as he bent and lit the pile of faggots beneath her.
Blood coursed through her veins making her feel light-headed, and her heart pounded so heavily that it brought physical pain. Tears found renewed energy and streamed down her face. The heat seeped up, slowly at first. Then faster, surrounding her legs as the faggots smoldered for a few moments before catching alight.
A terrified gasp escaped her lips, as the first wisps of smoke invaded her nostrils. She twisted her body, fighting against the chains that bound her to the stake. The metal links were unrelenting, they cut deeper and deeper into her flesh. The heat intensified, engulfing her torso and making her cough. The fire took hold quickly, and crackled ominously beneath her. Her tears, now a steady stream, clouded her vision. Then, she felt the first tiny shocks of pain, as the flames licked her soles.
“God save me!” she screamed, panic besetting her. Frantically, she searched faces in the crowds, still believing someone would show compassion. Somebody would speak up and free her. As her eyes burned into theirs, she saw no reprieve, instead, the crowd grew quieter and settled down. They watched in morbid fascination as her flesh seared and pain surged through her.
Summoning courage, she tried to withstand the pain, but terror thwarted spirit. The fire began to spew the sparks that caught hold of the hem of her ragged clothes, and an uncontrollable force made her shake violently. Smoke began to billow from the pyre forcing the congregation to move backwards. Only her accuser stood his ground.
“God will not save you!” he cried, “for thou shall not suffer a witch to live!”
A faint murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd. She was unable to look at them anymore. Terror had a firm hold on her psych as flames beat at her feet and lapped her legs. She screamed again, a terrible sound that rang through the village square. The torture was unbearable. She could no longer stand it. Blinking the oppressive breath of the fire out of her eyes, she prayed for the end.
Death was not far away. Suffocating slowly, and unable to scream anymore, she was slipping into unconsciousness from the agony. She managed to lift her head one final time and silently beg God for a merciful release. The smoke cleared for a few seconds in front of her face and quite by chance, she caught his eye. It took only a second to register that he was actually smiling.
Rage pulsed through her. She battled against the constriction of her throat and the creeping, burning agony that was melting her flesh. Her heart pounded so violently against her ribcage that it would surely burst from her chest. Then, on the verge of death, her unbroken spirit gave her the power to raise her voice once more.
It was surprising, shocking even, that her words rang so clearly across the gathering. The God fearing peasants clutched at each other, seeking reassurance. Afraid of her words and the unnatural power she appeared to possess. With her final scream echoing through their heads, they watched the hungry flames engulf her body. Some cried out in pity, others uneasily marked themselves with the sign of the cross. Only one looked on in satisfaction.
The witch was dead.