The Estate of Crichton, England, 1657
The powerful bay stallion raced across the open field, its pounding hooves barely keeping one step ahead of the unholy lightning striking the ground behind it. Its rider, Laith Moreland, the Third Duke of Crichton, urged the steed on, desperate to save not only himself, but the woman who frantically clutched onto him from behind.
The Lady Cassandra Belstowe gripped his waist painfully but Laith barely felt it, hoping to God she didn't fall off. He had to reach the manor. They would be safe there. He didn't know where this storm had come from, as only a few minutes before, it had been a most pleasant evening with nary a cloud in the sky.
His interlude with the lady in the forest had been one of raw passion, flaring between them, threatening to consume their very souls. But once the dark, foreboding clouds rolled in with unnatural speed, Laith had known this was no ordinary storm.
They had mounted up to return to his manor on the hill as rain began to pelt them, and then lightning cracked down, spooking the horse, felling a tree not more than a few paces away. Now as they galloped across the field, the lightning followed them, striking the ground with a powerful force, tearing at Laith's heart with an unfathomable fear. It was as if God Himself were trying to strike them down.
He could see ahead that the path to the manor was blocked by trees; trees that had been standing when he traveled this way with the lady not more than a few hours before. There was no hope for it. He had to take the long way.
Along the ravine.
At this break-neck speed, he knew he had to be careful, as the driving rain made it almost impossible to see too far ahead. Not to mention the rain-slicked path would now, no doubt, be a river of mud. But there was no other choice, and the lightning that continued to follow spurned him on, as if it were herding them in this direction.
Without protest, the powerful bay surged forward, running for all it was worth along the crest of the ravine. It was the finest horse Laith had ever known, breeding the stallion himself with his own fine stock of horseflesh. If any animal could outrun the wrath of God, it would be Sir William.
But it was then that he saw her.
The lightning flashed once more, illuminating the path before him, outlining the figure of a woman, her white hair flowing in the wind. Her arms outstretched as the wind swirled about her, and yet, she was not wet. It was as if the ungodly storm could not touch her.
Laith only had a moment to consider that before the horse plowed to a stop, prancing and side-stepping fearfully in the mud. The woman chanted loudly before them, and no matter how hard he tried, Laith could not get the horse to continue. It tossed its head and chomped at the bit, but its high-pitched squealing told Laith that the horse was terrified of the woman on the path.
Behind him, Cassandra wept, digging her face into his back, holding him with all of her might.
"Laith! I love you!" he heard her shriek desperately against the wind.
At that moment, lightning struck the ground right in front of Sir William and the horse reared back, screaming in terror. Laith had only an instant to realize, with horror, that both he and Cassandra were going to die as the stallion plummeted backwards over the side of the ravine.
Cassandra's screams echoed though his skull as they fell down, down, down. Before they hit the sharp rocks below, Laith could feel his soul being ripped from his body.
His last conscious thought was a prayer, hoping for all he was worth that the woman he loved died quickly, spared the pain of a violent death.