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The whistle and crack of the whip rang out across the moor as the driver punished the horses mercilessly. In the distance a stone fortress rose out of the mist, crumbling ramparts clearly visible in dawn's paler gray while night clung tenaciously round the base. But the close race between time and distance would mean nothing if fatigue should cut the legs from under one of the animals. Or the coach fail to withstand the punishment of the rutted track.
It had been a foolhardy decision to attempt the last leg of my journey without stopping. Even now, the sun rose over the mountain, rushing the world madly toward the hour I both loathed and grieved for.
An early spring had made our journey across the barren and desolate Highlands a nightmare. Traveling by night, and hiding the coach with its curious baggage by day had lowered me to such a degree of depravity I no longer felt the least bit human. A blackness bordering on oblivion threatened what little strength remained.
The coach skewed sharply to the left and slid to a halt. The door jerked and Rodrigo stood in the opening, black skin waxy in the near light. His hand on my wrist insisted I hurry.
Once outside the coach, the isolation was overwhelming. I staggered toward the lathered, heaving horses trembling in their traces and the stench of their pain washed over me, driving the splinter of need deeper into my heart.
Some strange compunction urged me to look back.
It was then I saw her.
A wayward gypsy, astride a dappled gray mare, heavy red hair curling wildly about her face. She had ridden the mare hard for some distance and I could hear both hearts pounding fiercely.
The sun charged the air at the top of the hill with brilliance, turning the last wisps of mist to rainbows but nothing nature created dared compare with her beauty. The bloom of youth on fragile cheeks beguiled me. I watched, mesmerized, as the sun began its relentless march across the sky. Neither of us moved for an eternity. Then abruptly she broke the spell, turning the horse and racing away. I, too, turned and limped up the short flight of steps to safety.
The days and nights that followed became one while I lay like a corpse in the grave. No single human traveled near enough to rouse me. On the third night I felt her presence again. Felt the sweet echo of her heartbeat calling me back from the brink of oblivion. Back to the only reality I knew. Blood calling to blood.
I knew I must have her--or cease to exist.