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Winds of Fate [MultiFormat]
eBook by Caitlyn Hunter

eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Can two lovers change the Winds of Fate? Native American legend tells of a Chickasaw maiden and a Cherokee brave who met and loved in the capricious winds that swirl around the Blowing Rock in North Carolina. Winds forceful enough to make snow fall upside down and powerful enough to blow a man back into the arms of his lover when he jumps from the cliff in despair. Reunited, the two live happily for a while, until Fate, displeased with the maiden for calling on the Cherokee Wind Messengers to reverse destiny, tears them apart again. When she dies at an early age, the brave appeals to Fate for another chance, and allows them six more lifetimes to atone for their wrongdoing. With each life they're given the opportunity to prove their love is worthy of eternity. The maiden comes to each lifetime without knowledge of what has happened in the past while the brave carries the story with him from one life to the next. Connected by their psychic powers, they manage to find each other every time, but so far, they've been unable to find the key to unlock Fate's hold on them. Now, on their seventh and final time together, Schuyler and Josh are determined to change the Winds of Fate and find eternal happiness.

eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, Published: London, Texas, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2011




PROLOGUE

* * * *

The Blowing Rock, 1809

* * * *

Shotik's entire body shook as she neared the edge of the cliff. The fear, as relentless and powerful as the wind that blew endlessly up here, grew stronger with each step she took. Refusing to let it stop her from doing what she had to do, she closed her eyes and thought of the many times she'd pranced right up to the brink of that terrifying drop, the wind whipping her hair and dress in a frenzied madness as she laughed and danced with Tsa-si. With him by her side, the reassuring feel of his strong arms around her, the security of his love holding her heart, she'd never felt the slightest hint of anxiety.

No, the panic hadn't hit until his despair drove him to leap from the rock and end his life. Torn between his duty to his tribe and his love for her, he couldn't see any other way.

She'd been too late to stop him, too late to talk him through the despondency and perhaps give him a reason to live, too late to save her love.

Her father carried her down from the mountain that day and she hadn't been able to bear the thought of coming back...until now. Despite the overwhelming terror, she had to keep going. She would not let it stop her. If she wanted any chance at happiness again, she had to do this.

She would crawl to the edge if she had to. Taking a deep breath, she dropped to her hands and knees then crept forward, coming ever closer to the object of her fear, the sheer drop off at the edge of Blowing Rock, as some of the white settlers called it. To her, no matter what happened tonight, it would always be the place where she first found love. It didn't matter that she'd also lost her love here because if things went as planned tonight, she would have him in her arms once more.

The rock scraped her palms as she slid them forward, feeling her way like a blind woman. Her hands would be raw after this night, but she welcomed the pain. It gave her something else to think about besides the fear and the grief she suffered since Tsa-si died.

No, not died, he left, that's all, and if the North Wind Messenger answered her plea as the Shaman promised, he would be with her again before sunrise.

If not, she knew in her heart she had no choice but to follow him. Her stomach rolled at the thought of flinging her body into the air and living through that terrifying drop to the forest below. But she would do it, and after that final agony, perhaps she would have peace again.

She would gladly give her life for his if that's what it took. After all, she had no life without Tsa-si and there was always the possibility if she died, wherever she ended up afterwards, he would be there waiting for her.

When her hand reached out and encountered nothing but air, she froze. On another deep breath, she shoved the terror aside, straightening her back as she sat back on her heels. The moon appeared from behind the clouds just as the wind spun around, gusting from behind her now, pushing her body forward so that she leaned out over the chasm below.

Don't look down, don't look down. The thought careened through her mind. She shut her eyes, but even with them closed she could picture that terrifying drop and the nausea gripped her with frigid fingers, seeming to cut through her body to her very soul.

She clenched her teeth and fought against it.

She would do this. She had to do this if she wanted to love again, if she wanted to live without this wrenching heartache that had been with her for the last two moons.

Pressing back against the wind, still on her knees as if praying to the white man's God, she forced her eyes open. Looking up, she focused on the feeble light of the full moon bleeding through the shifting clouds. The prayer she'd been told to prepare to the North Wind Messenger ran through her mind, but she didn't speak it out loud. Not yet. The Shaman said she must wait until the moon shone bright without even a trace of cloud to dim its light. Only then would the North Wind Messenger hear her plea.

As the wind grew even stronger, the clouds danced, shredding away under its power. When the last of the misty slivers melted away, the brilliant orb hung in the sky like a perfect dandelion after the bright yellow petals had gone to seed. Watching it, she waited for it to shatter into tiny bits and float away on the wind too.

When it stayed a solid mass, she tried to stand but couldn't make herself do it and she doubted her legs would support her anyway. Perhaps it was best to be down on her knees as she implored the North Wind Messenger to bring Tsa-si back to her. Kneeling, at least to the white settlers, was a sign of respect.

Without looking down, she fumbled for the bag tied at her waist, opened it and pulled out a piece of the raw deer meat she'd placed in it before leaving home. Remembering the Shaman's instructions, she flung it to her left to appease the West Wind Messenger, then withdrew another piece and threw it over her shoulder for the South Wind Messenger. The third piece went to her right for the East Wind Messenger. All that remained in the pouch was the offering to the North Wind Messenger. The Shaman told her that would normally be given first, but that she should reverse the order of the gifts and save the North Wind Messenger for last, because on this night, the North Wind was all important.

She pulled the last chunk of deer meat out of her pouch and held it before her as she looked up at the moon. Kawoni, Tsa-si's people called it, the Flower Moon. Traditionally, it was a time of birth and a time of renewal for the earth, a new season filled with endless hope. Her heart beat so hard and fast she could feel it in her breast. With every beat, she wished for the traditions of Kawoni to hold true, bringing her love back to her.

Lifting her hands, she held the meat up and spoke at last. Her words, slow and halting as she struggled with the Cherokee language, were directed to the North Wind Messenger and begged for his mercy.

"Yah-wi-gu-na-he-da, Long Human Being, spirit of the rivers, Messenger of the North Wind, my soul implores you, return my love to me, gather your winter winds and restore him to my arms."

The wind gusted around her, blowing more fiercely now, colder than before. She shivered then tossed the meat over the edge of the cliff before once again raising her arms to the sky. She repeated the chant over and over, louder each time, to be heard over the howling of the wind which seemed to grow stronger with each word.

When the clouds veiled the moon again, she lowered her body to the rock. Still whispering the prayer, she cried as what was left of her heart shattered. The North Wind Messenger hadn't granted her desire and she could see no other option but to die.

Keeping her eyes closed, she rose to her feet. Her breathing ragged, she tried to prepare herself for the pain, picturing her beloved Tsa-si in her mind.

"Bring him back and take me instead. Bring him back and let him live again..."

"Shotik, my love, come away from the edge."

Her body jerked and she whirled around, forgetting she stood on the precipice of her greatest fear. Tsa-si stood before her. Her knees buckled as she looked at him, strong and tall, as if he'd never died, as if he'd never left her. Tsa-si, her love, her heart, her life.

He swung her into his arms and strode down the rock face away from the edge before he set her down and kissed her. And she knew everything would be all right even as the rock trembled as if about to crumble under the force of the furious wind.

* * * *

ONE

* * * *

Cherokee, North Carolina

Present

* * * *

The piece of paper in her pocket felt as if it weighed a ton, seemed to get heavier with every step she had just taken on the tour inside. Fiddling with it as she walked out the door to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, she considered what she should do next. She stopped in front of the massive statue of Sequoyah that greeted visitors to the museum and looked up at his face without really seeing it, concentrating instead on the options and questions swirling through her mind.

What next? Should she go to the Oconaluftee Village? Would she find answers there or like the museum, end up more baffled than before and with more mystifying questions crowding her already confused brain?

She frowned. She needed answers, not more questions. Her hand went back to her pocket and the folded paper she'd carried with her since finding it tucked in an old music box wrapped in her grandmother's wedding dress. Who were the women on the list? Why were they important enough for her grandmother to write their names down with what Schuyler could only assume were their birth and death dates? Why had Schuyler's own name been the last one on the list and why had Nana written, "Look to your ancestors and dare to challenge the winds of Fate" beside it?

She'd figured the logical answer to the first part of Nana's words had been to come here to Cherokee and see if she could find any answers. So she'd asked her boss to allow her to take a month's worth of her accumulated vacation time, booked a cabin in the nearby town of Sylva, packed her bags and followed her instincts. It hadn't worked. True, she'd learned about her ancestors, in a strictly historical sense, but none of what she found seemed to have anything to do with her or the list.

She didn't have a clue what the second part meant. How the hell did someone challenge the winds, or fate for that matter?

Turning around, she stared at the museum, searching for clues in the outer facade of the tidy, unassuming building. When she found no answers, she looked at the mountain rising up behind it and noticed for the first time the hint of fall colors just beginning to show on the trees. September, Nana had died over a year ago and she still felt as if she'd lost her best friend. Would she ever get over the grief? She hoped if she could solve the mystery of the list it would alleviate the sadness somewhat.

She closed her eyes. You know, I could sure use some help here, Nana Suzie. Maybe a sign that I'm moving in the right direction, or some sort of indication that this is what you meant when you wrote for me to look to my ancestors and challenge the winds of fate.

Not really expecting any answer, it surprised her when the door to the museum opened and a man who looked to be as old as some of the ancient artifacts inside shuffled out, followed by a much younger man. She'd never seen the old one, but the young one, he'd been a member of her tour group and had watched her as if he expected her to grab one of the priceless relics and run off with it.

She sighed. Not exactly the kind of sign I wanted, Nana.

The two men spoke for a moment then shook hands and the older one turned to go back inside. The younger one studied her then shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled in her direction. Schuyler felt his determination growing with each step. Her heart, never the greatest judge of character, trembled in joyous recognition even as her psychic powers kicked into overdrive and her brain went into what she referred to as its Lost-in-Space-robot imitation. Danger, Schuyler Lambert, danger!

A knee-jerk reaction, but one she usually paid heed to.

As for her heart, well, she'd given up listening to it over a year ago. It had steered her so far off course with Lon, she doubted she'd ever trust it again, especially when it came to members of the opposite sex. Men, like her shattered heart, weren't to be trusted.

And oh, baby, this was a man. Of the tall, dark and mouth-wateringly gorgeous variety with warm chocolate eyes and just enough of a swagger to catch the eye of any woman within spitting distance.

And what did he want with her?


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