Rachel is a powerful healer and for her the veil that separates the living and the dead does not exist. She experiences extraordinary challenges in her many lifetimes and faces each with unwavering courage and the determination to fulfill the destiny that awaits her.

 

In the year 1665, Rachel escapes the cruelty of King Louis XIV of France and seeks sanctuary in a village in England. She is here for a reason but realizes it is not for Edward, even though she loved him from that first moment. She sees the doubt in his eyes when she is accused of witchcraft, but it matters not, for as she flees to London, where a devastating plague is spreading rapidly across the city, she knows they will meet again.

 

Centuries later, Rachel encounters both friends and enemies from her past.

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

As he approached the house along the darkened street, he knew many eyes watched him. He was not afraid. He had waited a long time for this day. Even when death snapped at his heels and weariness made him reflect on the darkness he once held in his heart, he knew this day would come.

 

The door opened as he reached it and a man filled the space where it had been. They looked at each other—men who had once been enemies but who now shared a common cause. Despite this, their mistrust of each other lingered.

The man bid him enter and pointed to the wooden chairs by the fire. Four others in the room watched them.

 

‘You know why I am here?’

 

The man’s face held no expression ‘You were told it would not be possible.’

 

 ‘Everything is possible. You of all people should know that.’

 

‘Not this.’

 

‘You do not trust me? Do you know how I have spent these last years? I have worked tirelessly and achieved much.’

 

‘We heard.’

 

‘Then why can I not see her? You know I would never betray her.’

 

‘Why is it so important to you?’

 

‘You ask me that? You, who had moments I can never have and who live free of the regrets that are like a giant rock chained to my body. You think you have the right to decide if I am worthy to see her?’ He felt the tension build in the silent witnesses to their conversation. ‘After all I have done, you still doubt my purpose?’

 

‘You seek reward for your works?’

 

‘No.’ He stood up, sending his chair crashing to the floor. He stared down at the man he had once tried so hard to destroy. Then a calmness, a sadness, overcame him. ‘No,’ he whispered. ‘I want only to see her.’

 

The curtain at the far end of the room opened. She walked slowly towards him. She smiled and held out her hands to him.

 

He wept.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

 

England, April 1665

 

His heart beat in time to the pounding of the horse beneath him and as he raced through the fields he gradually felt the knot in his stomach unwind.

 

By the time Edward reached the first of the trees the anger had left him and he was able to appreciate the beauty around him. Not even the smallest of clouds blemished the bright blue sky and the warm breeze was filled with the smell of grass and wild flowers. Once under the shade he brought Pharaoh to a trot. A memory stirred of when he came here as a child. He would run from one of the shafts of sunlight that pierced the canopy of leaves to another, each time closing his eyes and imagining he was in a land far away.

 

Edward dismounted and released the reins, allowing Pharaoh the freedom to nibble on whatever patch of grass was to his liking. He sighed. Did he really have to wait another two weeks to go to London? It had only been a month since his last visit but he sometimes felt time passed much slower in the country than in the city. Here, life was governed by routine and the seasons but in London no two days were ever the same. He loved his family and his home but he could not control his growing feelings of restlessness and confinement. He craved excitement and unpredictability.

 

The rule of Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans no longer lay like a blanket of darkness across the land. Even in the poorest parts of the city laughter could be heard. Fun was no longer regarded as sinful. The court of King Charles II was lavish and colorful. There, Edward met learned and interesting people who talked of things that did not include the weather and the prospect of a good harvest. He experienced a different side to life and hungered for more. He knew he would one day have to settle down and run the family estate, but not yet—this was time for adventure. Why did his father not understand this?

 

Perhaps a swim in the pool would relax him. The trees were sparser there and allowed the sun to warm the water and the bushes to bloom in the light. In really hot summers the family would sometimes come here. Perhaps it would ease his impatience if he lingered on those happy memories.

 

Edward heard singing as he approached the clearing. The words were not familiar but the voice was sweet and clear. He strode towards its source, puzzled as to who it may be. The pool was on his family’s property so no-one from the village came here, especially not to bathe−for many that thought was abhorrent.

 

Then he saw her, and the image took his breath away. She was walking out of the water, her skin glistening with moisture and her dark hair clinging to her shoulders. He had never seen a completely naked woman before. Her body was slim and perfectly formed, her skin flawless except for some dark marks over her right hip. Her small breasts were erect and he was sure he could have spanned her waist with his hands. She stood in the sunlight, slowly stretched her arms above her head and looked to the sky. The light seemed to radiate to her and from her and he thought she might disappear in its brilliance. He could not turn his eyes away. Slowly she lowered her arms and looked straight at him.

 

His cheeks burned and he quickly turned his back. ‘My apologies, Mistress. I did not mean to disturb you.’

 

‘I will be but a moment dressing,’ she said.

 

He was glad of the time to regain his composure. He realized how foolish and inappropriate he had acted and hoped she was unaware of how long he had been staring. He turned when he heard her approach. She was simply dressed in a cream blouse with a ruffled collar. She smoothed down her long brown skirt as she walked.

 

‘I am Rachel.’ She smiled at him as she pulled her wet hair over her shoulder, squeezing out the water.

 

‘My name is Edward. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.’ Her eyes were the deepest blue, framed with long dark lashes. ‘I offer my apologies for…for…’

 

‘There is no need. Your heart is good.’

 

‘I did not recognize the language of your song,’ he said, anxious to change the subject.

 

‘My mother taught it to me a long time ago.’ She looked away from him and sighed. ‘The sun grows hot. I think I will rest a while in the shade.’ She walked towards a fallen log under a giant oak tree.

 

‘May I sit with you?’ 

 

‘That would please me.’

 

The warm air was still and the only sound was that of the birds singing above them. Even though he sat at a respectable distance from her, Edward thought it strange that his body felt as if it was touching hers. ‘Do you live nearby, Rachel?’ he asked.

 

‘I live with my aunt and her husband at Cloverdale.’ She pointed to the west.

 

‘Tom and Grace Clarke?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘They are good people,’ Edward said. Tom had been his father’s tenant for as long as he could remember. ‘Have you lived there long?’

 

‘Only a short time.’

 

 ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked. Her voice held a hint of an accent he did not recognize.

 

‘I have lived in many places.’ She squeezed more moisture from her hair.

 

‘The day is very pleasant,’ he said. She turned to him and he felt his heart race at the beauty of her smile.

‘On a day such as this it is not difficult to believe that all is well in this world. Do you also live near, Edward?’

 

‘My father owns the land around here. I live that way, to the south, at Riverbank Manor.’

 

‘Ah, you are the son of Samuel Mills. Tom has spoken of your family.’

 

‘Then we are not strangers, Rachel.’

 

She stared at him, not blinking. ‘We were never strangers, Edward.’

 

He was about to ask her what she meant but was distracted as two large blue butterflies came fluttering towards them.

He thought how they were almost the same color as Rachel’s eyes.

 

She raised her left hand slowly and they both came to rest on her fingers.

 

‘They seem unafraid of you,’ he said.

 

‘They know I will not harm them. They will come to you if you ask them.’

 

‘Ask them?’ I do not understand.’

 

‘Close your eyes and hold out your hand. Send them thoughts of love. You do not have to use words.’

He laughed at this strangeness. ‘How do I send them love?’

 

‘Think of their beauty and fragility. Ask them to share a moment with you.’

 

Her gentle voice made him think all things were possible and so he slowly put his hand outwards and closed his eyes. He pictured them in his mind—their delicate wings and the way they floated effortlessly in the air. Sitting there with Rachel, he felt a sense of peace, as if nothing mattered but that moment in time. Then he felt the lightest of touches on his hand. He opened his eyes and saw both butterflies resting on his finger, their wings lifted towards the sky. He held his hand steady and after a few moments they slowly, without any sign of fear, fluttered away.

 

He could not help but smile. ‘When I was a small child I would chase butterflies but I never attempted to catch them. It did not seem right.’

 

‘This world is filled with so many joyous creatures,’ she said.

 

She was right. And he thought her the most joyous.

 

‘I must go now.’ She ran her fingers through her hair which had almost dried. Shiny strands framed her face.

‘Do you come to the pool often, Rachel?’

 

‘This is my first time. I was searching for a particular plant and came across this place. Perhaps I should not be here, on your property.’

 

‘You are welcome whenever you wish. Will you come tomorrow?’

 

She closed her eyes for a moment. ‘Yes, around this time.’

 

‘May I escort you home?’

 

‘Thank you, but no. I will look for the plant on the way back.’

 

Rachel walked over to Pharaoh who was patiently waiting nearby and gently stroked his flank. Edward saw her lips move close to the horse’s ear but did not hear her words. The horse nuzzled her face and she laughed.

 

‘I will see you tomorrow,’ Edward said. He watched her walk away and his heart leapt when, just before she disappeared among the trees, she turned and waved.

 

He stayed there for a long time, reliving every second he had spent with her. She was unlike anyone he had ever met. And she was so beautiful. A rush of heat rose through his body as he remembered her standing naked in the sunlight.  He laughed. His impatience to return to London had somehow disappeared.

 

 

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©2014 by Cathy M Donnelly