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"Gram, I'm home." I stepped into the dim light bathing the interior of our cabin in buttery yellows.
She stood stooped over the hearth, shoving something into the fire, muttering words beneath her breath I couldn't hear, but they sounded an awful lot like something from one of her "healing" books.
Her fingers glowed light blue with tiny sparks of magic.
Gram had talents most people only dreamt of. Most of which dealt with the ability to heal people. I hoped to one day follow in her footsteps. But so far, my own abilities were beyond my control. I'd been her apprentice since I was a child. I did well enough as a healer, but it was my visions that were more dominant. The problem was I couldn't always tell the difference between a regular dream and a premonition.
She jumped and spun to face me. "Good heavens, Brielle, you 'bout gave me a scare."
I laughed, staring at her heavily wrinkled face. Her gray hair hung in a thick braid down her back and over a flowered dress worn with age.
She raised an eyebrow at me. "Did Rhyne Butcher walk you home again?"
I fidgeted with my basket as I set it on the table. Here we go again. "Yes."
"Some days I believe that boy is enamored with you. If you two weren't such close friends, I think he'd consider proposing at the festival, if only to get his father off his back."
Rhyne was my best friend. And to be honest, I'd never felt the sparks with him that other people talked about. There was only one man to garner those types of feelings, and I hadn't seen him in months.
Lately all anyone in the village had been talking about was the coming festival, and the marriage engagements that always accompanied it, but I was still hoping for a way to get out of going. Because all it would do was remind me how different I was from everyone else.
"You know how I feel about marriage," I said. "I have more important things to focus on." Although, that wasn't the complete truth, even I wasn't totally immune to the thought of falling in love.
She laughed. "Yes, you do. There's so much more to teach you about healing. If you're going to eventually take over for me, you must dedicate yourself to your studies." She watched me for a moment, then said, "There might come a time when you change your mind about romance. If that day comes, just remember what I taught you. You don't need a man to take care of you, Brielle. You're strong enough on your own."
I figured some of her push for me to stay single must have had something to do with whatever had happened between her and my grandfather — a subject she spoke little about, but when she did, the memory seemed painful.
Besides, she was right. My parents had died when I was a baby, too young to remember them. Me and Gram had lived on our own ever since. I saw no need to change that by getting married just because everyone else said I "should."
I went to the cabinet by the washbasin and pulled out two wooden bowls for dinner. "Sarah Weaver has shown a lot of interest in Rhyne lately."
She frowned. "That girl is a ninny. A spoiled child who could use a good whippin'. Lord knows what she expects anyone to see in her, least of all Rhyne. She falls in love with a new boy every week."
I snorted. "Ninny or not, her parents run this town. What Sarah wants, Sarah gets. And she wants Rhyne."
Fortunately, Rhyne looked to have his heart set on Gertie, not Sarah. If Sarah did manage to gain his attentions though, I wouldn't stand in his way. I'd tell him what I thought, then I'd be there as his friend, no matter what happened. Because who was I to say who he should or should not fall in love with?
I myself would likely end up an old maid, living alone in our cabin in the woods. Which would suit me just fine. Or at least that's what I told myself, but if a certain Wanderer named Raul asked to call on me, I wouldn't say no. Although, I was sure Gram would. She didn't let any suitors within a stone's throw of me.
Gram stirred the flames, and I noticed my blue dress sleeve charring on a log.
"Why are you burning my dress?" I shrieked. "You just made it for me."
"Well, you got stains all over the front of it."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes you did. No point in hanging on to an old rag. You want to be presentable, don't you?" She grabbed a couple of more chunks of wood and tossed them into the fire. "I've got to deliver this sleeping medicine to Michael Archer for his wife. You stay inside and don't be letting any strangers into the house."
"But I was supposed to meet up with Rhyne at the creek. He had to drop a cart of vegetables off for Peter Farmer."
"Fine, but go no farther than the creek. And bring that basket of fruit and vegetables so you can wash them off." She eyed me for a moment, then said, "And I meant what I said. Don't let any strangers in the house. In fact, don't talk to anyone you don't know."
"Any strangers I should be worried about?"
She looked at me for a few seconds, as though considering what to tell me. Or how much. "You'll be fine. Just remember what I said."
In one abrupt motion, Gram was out the door, her cloak pulled tight against her.
What'd got into her? Why was she burning our clothes and using magic to do so? And since when did I need to be reminded about strangers?
With a sigh, I grabbed my things and hurried out into the woods.
* * *
The cool stream kissed my ankles as I bent to scrub the vegetables, the water whispering as it slid over the rocks. The scent of honeysuckle reminded me summer was in full swing. I sighed in contentment as I tossed the fresh garden vegetables into my basket.
I swept my blond hair from my face and tucked it behind my ear. At least out here, I didn't have to keep it tied back.
The sound of a twig snapping disturbed the silence and made me go still. I shivered as my eyes darted back and forth over the woodland. The birds stopped chirping. Everything was quiet. Too quiet.
"Hello?" The hair on the back of my neck pickled, and I stepped out of the creek.
Two dead rabbits sailed through the air and fell at my feet. A shriek caught on my lips.
"Told you I'd find you." Rhyne leaned his bow against a nearby tree, and hung his game on a low branch.
I went straight to him, grabbed hold of his tunic, and gave him a good shake. "Rhyne Butcher, you are a pain in the arse!"
"And here I thought you'd have crept away to see if the Wanderers had come back to town," he said. "Like you normally do when they come around."
The Wanderers were a nomadic group that traveled to different towns performing shows, both acrobatic and otherwise, as well as selling trinkets from different, exotic lands. Some of them even told fortunes, for a price.
"I heard from Bartholomew Mason that a certain Roma man is amongst them. He mentioned seeing that 'Gypsy scoundrel's' carriage pull in late last night."
Heat flared across my cheeks. "Raul? He's here? I haven't seen him since this last spring."
"Trust me, I know. I've spent the last few months listening to you go on and on about how much you missed him. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were half in love with my cousin." He gave me a pointed look. "Which, if I might add, would not be a good idea."
"You sound like Gram." She'd been warning me to stay away from Raul, as of late. When I was younger, she'd let me hang about his carriage all the time, but in the last year or so, she'd put her foot down, claiming I was too old to be meeting with him alone. She'd given me the talk about young men and their expectations, and how exactly it was that babies were conceived. To this day, her words still made me blush.
Rhyne chuckled. "Bri, it's not that I don't like him, he's my cousin after all. I'm just not sure he's the type of man you ought to go falling in love with. He's a Tinker and spends his time traveling about. He has no real home. What kind of life would that be for you?"
"Maybe you're right, but I just wish people would let me make up my own mind. He's kind to me, and I love being around him."
"Perhaps I can help you sneak down to meet him," Rhyne said.
I slapped his arm. "Stop teasing me. You know I'm not allowed to see him unless I'm properly chaperoned. And last I checked, Gram didn't think you fell into that category."
He clutched his chest. "Your gram adores me."
"Yes, but that's because she doesn't know how you act when she's not around." But the more I thought about it, the more I considered slipping to the other side of town to find out for sure whether Raul was truly back. What harm would it do if I stopped in to welcome him back? Nervous flutters tickled my belly. What if he'd forgotten about the night he'd held my hand when he'd walked me home or what if he didn't really want to see me? Maybe I ought to wait and let him come to me. I imagined his smile and dark brown eyes. My heart raced at the thought of him. He was the only boy who'd ever made me feel this way. I tried to ignore my sweaty palms and glanced at my friend instead. So much for not thinking about romance and love and marriage. I was just as bad as every other girl in the village.
"So, are you going to head over there?"
"I'm not sure if I should chance it. Gram was acting crazier than normal. You know, I found her burning some of my clothes?"
He quirked an eyebrow at me. "That's strange, even for her. I wonder what's got into her?" He smiled. "Ah, but don't feel bad. Da isn't letting me anywhere near the market — doesn't want Ma's family to talk with me. I think he's afraid I might run off with them and join their band of fire eaters."
Rhyne was almost as much of an outsider as I was. He was a "half-breed," or so a lot of people in town liked to call him. His mom was a Tinker, or at least she had been when she'd lived amongst the Wanderer Tribes. But she'd been banished at fourteen for refusing to marry the chief — who was three times her age.
Rhyne's dad, Bowman Butcher, met her and married her a year later. However, Rhyne wasn't allowed to associate with the Wanderers when they came to Dark Pines. Bowman didn't want him getting pulled into all their magical, witchcraft type practices. And he didn't want to see him get hurt, the way his mother had. They knew they were outsiders, and they'd learned to keep their distance rather than risk being rejected, or in some instances persecuted.
Maybe that was why Rhyne and I were such good friends. We both knew what it was like to be different.
No one else knew it, but Rhyne secretly corresponded with his grandmother. I'd seen a few of the exchanged letters. He always burned them after reading them though, to keep his father and mother from finding out. And two summers ago, he'd even got to meet her in person.
I stared at his squared jawline. The late day sun shone on his golden colored hair. His ivy eyes seemed darker than normal.
"I got the courage up to stop by Gertie's to see if she could come out to the creek with us, but her ma said no. Even though I called on her all proper like. Not sure if her family will ever approve of me."
He shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. I am charming."
I snorted. "And therein lies your problem."
"What's that supposed to mean?" He crossed his arms over his chest.
"Your conceit is enough to smother someone."
"Is that so?"
"I'm trying to be honest. I thought that's what friends did."
"Ah, speaking of honest ..." He glanced around, like he was making sure we were alone so he could tell me a secret. "I heard some talk in the village today."
My gaze met his. "What kind of talk?"
"I overheard Lady Weaver say they found Walter Fisherman down by the dock, his innards strung about. Apparently they still haven't found his legs and arms."
"Great. The Beast again. You'd think the gossip mongers would be sick of spreading the same rumors over and over again."
He shrugged. "My bet is, Walter probably drank himself to death. But they did mention this was the second body found in five days."
For centuries, people had told tales of the "Beast" around campfires. Every time someone went missing or was found dead, the "monster" in the woods got blamed. But no one had ever actually seen this thing. So I believed it was the village elders' way of keeping the children in line. They claimed it came after the unholy. The sinners. So most of us were too scared to venture out after dark or make poor choices for fear their words might become true.
But what about my nightmares?
Chills raked over me.
The other night, I'd had a nightmare about the Beast. Had it been a vision of the Beast actually attacking someone?
And now Rhyne was saying someone's body had been found. Was it a coincidence? And last night I'd dreamed of Margaret Shepherdess being killed by the Beast ...
For a moment, I considered telling Rhyne about my gruesome nightmares. Of the headaches and nausea that followed these visions. About the ghostly lady who seemed to always watch from afar ... a woman who looked just like my dead cousin, Lucia.
With a sigh, I bit my lip. I didn't want to put a damper on the rest of my day. What I needed to do was try to forget about my dreams and visions and ghosts. So instead, I smiled and said, "See, this is why I adore you so much — you don't fall for Lady Weaver's antics."
Something or someone crashed in the trees next to us. We leapt apart and stared into the thicket. My heart catapulted into my throat as he reached for his bow. A buck and doe scampered out of the woods and stopped to get a drink at the creek.
Rhyne glanced at me, and I burst out laughing.
"What'd you think it was? The Beast?" I teased.
His lips twitched at the corners, and he tossed his bow aside while pulling me into the creek. "I'll show you beast."
With a giggle, I splashed him, getting his breeches and tunic wet. I grabbed the bottom of my drenched skirt and bounded through the woods, glancing over my shoulder as I rushed onto the main road and screeching as I saw Rhyne closing in.
I turned around and took a deep breath, ready to run faster, faster — and saw that I was about to collide with a black stallion coming toward me. I screamed and raised my arms to brace myself for the impact, but the rider pulled the reins, stopping the horse mere inches from me.
"Are you all right?" asked the rider with a deep, masculine voice.
The knight pulled his helmet from his head. My breath caught in my throat as he slid from his mount. Shaggy black hair fell across his forehead. His blue eyes the color of summer skies. He stood tall, his smile blinding.
"I-I'm sorry." I curtsied. "I'm afraid I didn't see you coming."
Any second now my heart would stop pounding. Right? Any second.
"No need to fret," he said. "I'm only glad I was able to pull up in time."
His soft tone sent a quivering across my skin that had nothing to do with me being dripping wet.
Rhyne came up behind me and rested his palm on my shoulder.
The knight glanced at his hand, then back at me. "My men and I are looking for the village of Dark Pines. I haven't been here since I was a boy, so my memory is not as clear I would like. Could you tell me if we're close?"
Rhyne cleared his throat. "It's just around the next bend."
The knight's gaze lingered on me as he stepped forward. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself." His grin widened. "My name is Lord Kenrick of Crowhurst."
In one smooth motion, he set his helmet on his saddle, then took my hand and raised it to his lips.
My skin blazed beneath his mouth, and my heart thudded like the beating of a thousand hooves in unison.
What's wrong with me?
I stood frozen in place, staring at him.
"Brielle, it's been too long since I've seen you." Lord Kenrick rushed across the stone bridge, moonlight at his back.
I laughed. "It's only been three nights."
"Three nights too many." He scooped me in his arms, his fingers tangling in my hair as he drew me closer.
My legs trembled and I shook my head to clear the mental picture. Of all the times for one of my stupid visions to hit me.
My eyes searched his, and I noticed the dazed look on his face as well. Hold on. Had he shared my vision? No. Of course not. Half the time I wasn't even sure what I was seeing was a vision. It was another magnitude of crazy to think that not only had it been a real vision, but that this knight had somehow shared that vision with me.
Rhyne stiffened behind me, his grip tightening on my shoulder. I swallowed hard.
"I'm Brielle Healer," I said at last.
Rhyne nudged me.
"And this is Rhyne Butcher," I added.
My face flushed when Kenrick released my hand. I took a step back and bumped into Rhyne.
"Pleased to meet you both." Kenrick gave a slight nod, his gaze still intent on my face. He raised an eyebrow. "You look so familiar to me. Is it possible we've met before? Perhaps in another town? Or at a ball?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Legend of Me"
Copyright © 2018 Rebekah L. Purdy.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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