Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница

"Madam, I'm just a clerk. I have no power to—"

"You're the only one with the power," she interrupted. "The magistrate is the kind of man who plows a straight furrow, ay? Well, this field's damn crooked!"

"So you contend that Madam Howarth is not a witch? Even though her husband was brutally murdered, poppets were found in her house, she can't speak the Lord's Prayer, and she bears the Devil's marks?"

"Lies upon lies. I think you're a man of some education: do you believe in witchcraft?"

"The books on demonology are well founded Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница," Matthew said.

"Hang the books! I asked if you believe." Matthew hesitated; the question had never been posed to him. Of course he knew the Salem incident, which had occurred only seven years ago. He'd read Cotton Mather's Memorable Providences and Richard Baxter's Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits, both of which secured witchcraft and demon possession as fact. But he'd also read John Webster's The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft and John Wagstaffe's The Question of Witchcraft Debated, and both of those volumes held that "witchcraft" was either deliberate fraud or Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница that "witches" were insane and should be bound for an asylum rather than the gallows. Between those two poles, Matthew hung suspended.

"I don't know," he said.

"Mark this," Mrs. Nettles told him. "Satan does walk in Fount Royal, but Rachel Howarth's na' the one beside him. Things that nae want to be seen are plentiful here. And that's God's truth."

"If you believe so, why don't you speak to Mr. Bidwell?"

"What? And then he'll be thinkin' I'm bewitched too? Because any woman or man who speaks up for Rachel Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница Howarth would have a noose ready for—"

"Mrs. Nettles!" came a shout from the bottom of the stairs. "Where's Mr. Corbett?" It was Bidwell and he sounded quite irritated. "We're awaiting our breakfast, woman!"

"I'm at your mercy!" she whispered urgently to Matthew. "Na' a word about this, please!"

"All right," he agreed.

"We're here, sir!" Mrs. Nettles called to the master of the house, as she started toward the staircase again. "Beg pardon, the young man was late a'risin'!"

Their breakfast was slices of ham and cornmeal porridge, biscuits and locally gathered honey, all Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница washed down with mugs of strong amber tea. Matthew was still full from last night's dinner of turtle soup, turtle steaks, and cornbread, so he ate only sparingly. Woodward, who'd awakened with a raw throat and clogged nostrils after a restless night, drank as much tea as he could and then sucked on a lemon. In ravenous appetite, however, was Bid-well; the master of the house consumed slice after slice of ham and a whole serving bowl full of porridge, as well as a platter of biscuits.

At last Bidwell leaned back in his chair, expelled air, and Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница patted his bulging stomach. "Ahhhh, what a breakfast!" His gaze fell upon an unclaimed soul amid the carnage. "Magistrate, are you going to finish that biscuit?"

"No, sir, I'm not."

"May I, then?" Bidwell reached for it and pushed it into his mouth before an assent could be made. Woodward swallowed thickly, his throat very painful, and afforded himself another drink of the tart tea.

"Magistrate, are you not feeling well?" Matthew asked; it would have been difficult not to notice the man's pallor and the dark circles beneath his eyes.

"I didn't sleep very Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница soundly last night. The mosquitoes here seem to favor me."

"Tar soap," Bidwell said. "That's what you should bathe in this evening. Tar soap keeps them away. Well . . . most of them, that is."

"I thought the insects were particularly greedy in Charles Town." Woodward scratched at a reddened welt on the back of his right hand, one of a dozen bites he'd suffered already this morning. "But your mosquitoes, sir, have no compare."

"You have to get used to them, that's all. And the tar soap does help."

"I look forward, then, to being tarred." He knew Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница he appeared rather peaked, as the shaving mirror had told him. He was miserable in these borrowed clothes, which might have been a plowman's pride but were ill-suited for his elegant tastes. Also, he felt near naked without his wig, and terribly conscious of his age-spots. Never in his life had he felt so old, and such a prisoner of fate. Without the wig, it seemed to him that his entire face drooped near off the skull bones, his teeth appeared chipped and crooked, and he feared he looked more of a country bumpkin than an Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница urban sophisticate. His sore throat and swollen air passages further tortured him; on any other morning, he might have returned to bed with a cup of hot rum and a medicinal poultice but on this morning he had major work ahead. He realized Matthew was still staring at him, the young man's sense of order disturbed. "I'll be fine directly," Woodward told him.

Matthew said nothing, unwilling to embarrass the magistrate by appearing overly concerned. He poured some tea for himself, thinking that Woodward's bare-headed exposure to the raw swamp humours was certainly Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница not beneficial to his health. Not very far from the forefront of his mind, however, was the encounter he'd had with Mrs. Nettles. Her passion on the subject had been undeniable, but was her purpose to cloud his mind instead of clear it? Indeed, if she were bewitched she would be in the employ of Rachel Howarth's master as well. Was that master trying to use him, to taint the magistrate's judgment? He couldn't help but ponder the vastly different opinions on the subject of witchcraft by the authors of the tomes he'd Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница read. He'd spoken the truth to Mrs. Nettles; he honestly didn't know what he believed.

But Matthew didn't have time for much reflection, because suddenly Mrs. Nettles appeared in the dining room's doorway. "Sir?" she said, addressing Bidwell. "The carriage is ready." Her visage was stern again, and she gave not even a glance in Matthew's direction.

"Excellent!" Bidwell stood up. "Gentlemen, shall we go?"

Outside, the carriage's team was reined by the elderly black servant, Goode, who had played the violin at the first dinner and caught the turtle for the second Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница. Bidwell, Woodward, and then Matthew climbed into the carriage and under tumultuous clouds were taken away from the mansion and past the spring along Peace Street. A few citizens were out, but not many; the quality of light-—or lack of such—made for a gloomy morning, and Matthew saw clearly that life was fast ebbing from this forsaken village.

At the useless sundial, Goode turned the carriage's team eastward onto Truth Street. A fit of nerves seemed to affect Bidwell as they neared the gaol, and he eased his mounting tension with a doubleshot of snuff up the nostrils. Goode Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница steered them around the pigs that wallowed in Truth's mud, and in a moment he reined the horses to a halt before the grim and windowless wooden walls of the gaol. Two men were awaiting their arrival; one was Nicholas Paine, the other a stocky, barrel-chested giant who must have stood six feet tall. The giant wore a tricorn, but the hair that could be seen was flaming red, as was his long and rather unkempt beard.

Upon departing from the carriage, Bidwell made introductions between the magistrate, Matthew, and the red-bearded giant. "This Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница is Mr. Hannibal Green, our gaol-keeper," he said. When Woodward shook the man's red-furred hand, he had the feeling that his fingers might be snapped like dry sticks. Green's eyes, an indeterminate dark hue, were deeply sunken into his head and held no expression other than—in Matthew's opinion—a promise to do bodily harm to anyone who displeased him.

Bidwell drew a long breath and released it. "Shall we enter?"

Green, a man of no words, produced two keys on a leather cord from a pocket of his buckskin waistcoat and inserted Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница a key into the padlock that secured the gaol's entry. With one sharp twist, the lock opened and Green removed a chain that the lock had held fastened across the door. He pulled the door open to reveal a dark interior. "Wait," he rumbled, and then he walked inside, his boots pounding the rough planked floor.

Staring into the gaol's darkened recesses, both the magistrate and his clerk felt the gnaw of anxiety. The bittersweet smells of damp hay, sweat, and bodily functions came drifting out into their faces, along with the sense of what it must be like to Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница be caged in that stifling and humid environment. Green soon returned, carrying a lantern that shed only paltry light through its filmed glass. "Come in," he told them. Bidwell took another quick snort of snuff and led the way.

It was not a large place. Past the entrance room there were four iron-barred cells, two on each side of a central corridor. The floor was covered with hay. Matthew presumed it had been a small stable before its conversion. "Thank Christ you're here!" called a man's voice, off to the right. "I was Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница startin' to believe you'd forsaked me!"

Green paid him no mind. The gaol-keeper reached up to the utter height of his outstretched hand and caught hold of a chain that dangled from the ceiling. He gave it a good firm pull and with the sound of ratchets turning a hatch opened up there, allowing in more fresh air and much-needed illumination.

The light—gray and murky yet still much better than the dirty lamp—afforded a view of the man who stood in the nearest cage on the right, his hands gripping the bars, his beard-grizzled Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница face pressed against them as if he might somehow squeeze himself to freedom. He was young, only five or six years elder than Matthew, but already thick around the middle. He had husky forearms and a stout bull's neck, his unruly black hair falling over his forehead, and a pair of gray eyes glittering on either side of a bulbous nose that was—as were his cheeks—covered with pock-marks. "I'm ready to go home!" he announced.

"She's in the cell back here," Bidwell said to the magistrate, ignoring the young man.

"Hey! Bidwell!" the man Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница hollered. "Damn you, I said I'm ready to go—"

Wham! went Green's fist into one of the man's hands gripping the bars. The prisoner howled with pain and staggered back holding his injured fingers against his chest.

"You speak with respect," Green said, "or you don't speak at all. Hear me?"

"Ahhhh, my hand's near broke!"

"Noles, you have one more day and night on your sentence," Bidwell told the prisoner. "You'll be released tomorrow morning, and not one minute sooner."

"Listen! Please!" Noles, now apologetic, came to the bars again. "I can't Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница bear another night in here, sir! I swear before God, 1 can't! The rats are terrible! They et up most all my food, and I near had to fight 'em off my throat! Ain't I paid my penance yet, sir?"

"Your sentence was three days and three nights. Therefore: no, you have not yet paid your penance."

"Wait, wait!" Noles said, before Bidwell and the others could move along. "It ain't just the rats I'm feared of! It's her." He'd whispered the last sentence, and motioned with a tilt of his Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница head toward the last cage on the left of the corridor. His eyes were wide and wild. "I'm feared she's gonna kill me, sir!"

"Has she threatened you?"

"No sir, but. . . well. . . I've heard things."

"Such as?" Bidwell's interest had been fully secured now, and he gave Noles a long ear.

"Last night... in the dark . . . she was talkin' to somethin'," Noles whispered, his face once more pressed against the bars. "I couldn't hear much of it . . . but I heard her speak the word 'master.' Yessir, I did. 'Master', she said, three or four Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница times. Then she started a'laughin', and by Christ I hope to never hear such a laugh as that again, because it was nothin' but wickedness."

"And what happened after that?"

"Well. . . she talked some more, to whatever it was. Just jab-berin', like to scare the moon." He ran his tongue across his lips; his eyes flickered across Woodward and Matthew and then returned to Bidwell. "Then ... I saw a light back there. Like fire, but it was cold blue. Yessir. Cold blue, and it was burnin' in her cage. Well, I drew myself back and laid down, 'cause I didn Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница't want to see what it was."

"Go on," Bidwell urged, when Noles paused again.

"Well sir . . . there came a hummin' and a buzzin'. And I seen what I took to be a fly, leavin' the witch's cage. Only it was burnin' blue, makin' the air spark. Then it flew into here and started flittin' 'round my head, and I swatted at it but to tell the truth I didn't really care to touch it. It flew 'round and 'round, and I crawled over there in that corner and threw some hay at it to keep it Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница away from me. After a while it flew on out of here and went away."

"Went away? To where?"

"I don't know, sir. It just vanished."

Bidwell looked gravely at the magistrate. "You see what we're up against? The witch's master can transform himself—itself—into shapes that have no equal on this earth."

"Yessir, that's right!" Noles said. "I'm feared for my life, bein' in here with her! I seen what I seen, and she's like to kill me for it!"

"Might I ask a question?" Matthew proposed, and Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница Bidwell nodded. "What offense has this man committed?"

"He whipped his wife bloody with a carpet-beater," Bidwell said. "Dr. Shields had to attend to her. As it was Noles's second offense, I ordered him here."

"And what was his first offense?"

"The same," Bidwell said.

"She's a liar and a nag!" Noles spoke up adamantly. "That woman don't know when to shut her mouth! I swear, even a saint would pick up an ax and cleave her head when she starts that damn prattlin'!" The man's attention fixed on Bidwell once more. "Will you Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница let me out then, to save my life?"

"Well—" He looked to Woodward for aid in this question. "Richard Noles is a good Christian fellow. I shouldn't want to leave him to the mercy of the witch. What do you propose I do, sir?"

"Has his wife recovered?"

"She is abed at Dr. Shields's infirmary. Her arm was broken during the incident, and her back much bruised. But . . . after all, sir . . . she is his property, by the writ of marriage."

"I have a suggestion," Matthew said, which relieved Woodward of a difficult decision. "Since Mr. Noles last night defeated Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница the Devil with a handful of hay, surely he can hold off the demons of Hell with a carpet-beater. Why not bring him one with which he might defend himself."

Bidwell slowly blinked. "Are you joking, young man?"

"No, sir. He seems to be proficient with such a weapon, doesn't he?"

"What kind of damned horseshit is this?" Noles said, almost hollering again. "I want out of here, right now!"

"I won't have this man's blood on my hands, if the witch strikes him dead tonight." Bidwell nodded at Green. "Let him loose."

"Sir?" Matthew Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница said, as the gaol-keeper found the proper key from his ring. "If the witch strikes Mr. Noles dead tonight, I don't believe there'll be need to interview the other witnesses."

"He's right," said Paine, standing behind Matthew. "It would put the rope around the witch's neck, pure and simple!"

"Hold." Bidwell grasped Green's arm before the key could be inserted in its lock.

"Have you lost your damned minds?" Noles bellowed. "She'll kill me tonight if you don't let me out!"

Matthew said, "I don't think she will. It would Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница be against her interests."

"You!" Noles stared at Matthew, his eyes hot. "I don't know who you are, but you'd best beware me when I get out!"

"That loose tongue might earn you a further sentence," Woodward warned. "I'm a magistrate, and the young man is my clerk."

Bidwell added, "Constrain your speech, Noles! That is, if you value your freedom come morning!"

"Damn you all, then!" the prisoner shouted. Turning, he picked up from the floor a bucket above which several flies of the non-demonic variety were circling. His face purple with Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница anger, Noles braced his body to fling the bucket's contents at his tormentors.

"Noles!" Green's voice seemed to shake the gaol's walls. "Your teeth in trade!"

The bucket hung poised on the edge of being thrown. Even in his rage, Noles realized it was a bad bargain. He paused, shaking, his face contorted in a sneer that might have cracked a mirror. He lowered the bucket to his side and finally let it drop into the hay.

"Tomorrow morning you shall be free," Bidwell said. "If you so wish, I'll . . . have brought to you a carpet-beater Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница, with which you might—"

Noles laughed harshly. "Give it to that skinny whelp and he can stick it up his arse! Go on, I've nothin' more to say to you!" He sat down on the bench and turned his face toward the wall.

"All right." Bidwell motioned Green on. "Let's see to Madam Howarth."

They moved along the corridor, to the final cell on the left-hand side. From the occupant of this cage there was no outburst of noise or apparent movement. A hooded figure wrapped in coarse gray clothing lay huddled in the Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница hay.

Bidwell's voice was tight when he spoke. "Open it."

Green used the second key on the leather cord, which evidently unlocked all the cells. The key turned, the lock clinked, and the gaol-keeper pulled the barred door open.

"Madam?" Bidwell said. "Stand up." The figure did not move. "Do you hear me? I said, stand up!" Still, there was no response.

"She tests me," Bidwell muttered, grim-lipped. Then, louder, "Will you stand up, madam, or will Mr. Green pull you to your feet?"

At last there was a movement, but slow and deliberate. Woodward thought it Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница was as dangerously graceful as the uncoiling of a serpent. The figure stood up and remained standing against the far wall, head fully cloaked and arms and legs shrouded by the gray sackcloth.

"I've brought visitors," Bidwell announced. "This is Magistrate Isaac Woodward and his clerk, Matthew Corbett. The magistrate desires to ask you some questions."

Again there was no reaction. "Go ahead, sir," Bidwell said.

Woodward stepped forward, into the cage's doorway. He took note of the cell's furnishings: a refuse bucket, the same as afforded Noles; another smaller bucket that held water; a bench, and upon Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница it a wooden tray with some scraps of bread and what appeared to be chicken bones. "Madam Howarth?" Woodward said. "I am here to ascertain the facts concerning your situation. Do I have your compliance?"

Nothing, from the hooded woman.

Woodward glanced quickly at Bidwell, who nodded for him to continue. The magistrate was aware that Green and Paine were flanking him, presumably to catch the woman should she fling herself at him. Matthew watched with acute interest, his hands clenching the bars. Woodward said, "Madam Howarth, would you please speak the Lord's Prayer?"

Again, nothing. Not a Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница word, not a nod, not even a curse.

"Do you know the Lord's Prayer?"

"Of course she does!" Paine said. "But speaking it would scorch her tongue!"

"Please." Woodward held up a hand to beg the man's silence. "Madam, on these matters I do need your response. Your unwillingness to repeat the Lord's Prayer can be taken as your inability to speak it. Do you not understand how important this is?"

"She'll understand the noose, all right!" Bidwell said.

Woodward paused, putting his thoughts in order. "Silence is guilt, madam," he continued Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница. "I want you to listen well to what I say. There is much talk here of nooses and hangings. You know of what you stand accused. Many witches in these colonies have met their deaths by hanging . . . but since you stand accused of murdering your husband, to whom by law you owed obedience, this is also a case of what is called 'petty treason.' The punishment for such treason is not the rope, but death by fire at the stake. Therefore it does you no good whatsoever to remain mute to my questions."

He may as well have been speaking to Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница a gray-gowned statue. "This is absurd!" he protested to Bidwell. "It's all useless, if she refuses to speak! "

"Then we ought to get a stake ready, yes?"

"Sir?" Matthew said. "May I pose her a question?"

"Yes, go ahead!" Woodward answered, disgusted with the whole thing.

"Madam Howarth?" Matthew kept his voice as quiet and un-threatening as possible, though his heart was beating very hard. "Are you a witch?"

Bidwell gave an abrupt, nervous laugh that sounded like an ill-tuned trumpet. "That's a damned foolish question, boy! Of course she's a witch! None Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница of this would be necessary if she wasn't!"

"Mr. Bidwell?" Matthew speared the man with a cold gaze. "It was a question I posed to the woman, not to you. I'd appreciate if you would not presume to answer for her."

"Why, you're an impudent young cock!" The blood flushed to the surface of Bidwell's jowls. "If you were more than half a man, I'd require satisfaction for that sharp tongue of—"

"I," spoke the woman, loud enough to command attention. Bidwell was immediately silent. ". . . am . . .judged a witch," she said, and then nothing more Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница.

Matthew's heart was now at full gallop. He cleared his throat. "Do you judge yourself one?"

There was a long pause. Matthew thought she wouldn't reply, but then the hooded head tilted a fraction. "My husband has been taken from me. My house and land have been taken." Her voice was wan but steady; it was the voice of a young woman, not that of a wizened crone as Matthew had expected. "My innocence has been taken from me, and my very soul has been beaten. Before I answer your question, you answer mine: what more do Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница I possess?"

"A voice. And knowledge of the truth."

"Truth," she said acidly. "Truth in this town is a ghost, its life long departed."

"There, listen!" Bidwell said, his excitement rampant. "She speaks of ghosts!"

Hush! Matthew almost snapped, but he restrained himself. "Madam, do you commune with Satan?"

She took a long breath and let it go. "I do not."

"Did you not create poppets for use in spells of witchcraft?" Woodward asked, feeling he should endeavor to take command of this questioning.

The woman was silent. Woodward realized, uncomfortably, that she was indeed making Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница a statement: for whatever reason, she would only speak to Matthew. He looked at his clerk, who was also discomfited by the woman's behavior, and gave a shrug of his shoulders.

"The poppets," Matthew said. "Did you make them?" Bid-well let out an exasperated snort, but Matthew paid him no heed. "No, I did not," the woman answered.

"Then how come they to be found in the floor of her house?" Paine asked. "I myself found them!"

"Madam Howarth, do you know how the poppets came to be in your house?"

"I do not," she said.

"This is Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница a fool's court!" Bidwell was about to burst with impatience. "Of course she's going to deny her wickedness! Do you expect her to confess her sins?"

Matthew turned to the captain of militia. "How did you know to investigate the floor of her house?"

"The locality of the poppets was seen in a dream by Cara Grunewald. Not the exact locality, but that the witch had something of importance hidden underneath the floor of her kitchen. I took some men there, and we found the poppets beneath a loosened board."

"Was Madam Howarth still living there when you made Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница this discovery?"

"No, she was here in the cell by then."

"So this Cara Grunewald told you where to look?" Woodward asked. "According to the dictates of a vision?"

"That's correct."

"I should think we might want to speak to Madam Grunewald, as well," the magistrate decided.

"Impossible!" Bidwell said. "She, her husband, and four children left Fount Royal two months ago!"

Matthew frowned, rubbing his chin. "How long was Madam Howarth's house empty before these poppets were discovered?"

"Oh . . . two weeks, perhaps." Now it was Paine's turn to wear a furrowed brow. "What's your Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница direction, young man?"

"No direction yet." Matthew offered a faint smile. "I'm only testing the compass."

"Magistrate, I protest this ridiculous behavior by your clerk!" Bidwell had nearly snarled the word. "It's not his place to be posing these questions!"

"It is his place to be helping me," Woodward said, his temper beginning to fray from the man's insinuations. "As we all desire to find the truth in this situation, anything my well-versed scrivener can add to that process is—to me, at least—entirely welcome."

"The truth is already clear as Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница glass, sir!" Bidwell retorted. "We should put the witch to death—fire, hanging, drowning, whatever—and be done with it!"

"It seems to me there are too many questions yet to be answered," Woodward said steadfastly.

"You want proof of her witchcraft, do you? Well, here it is then, and she won't have to speak a word! Green, remove the witch's clothing!" The burly gaol-keeper started into the cage. Instantly the gray-cloaked figure backed against the wall, so tightly as if to press herself into it. Green didn't hesitate; in another two strides he Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница was upon her, reaching out to grasp a handful of sackcloth.

Suddenly the woman's right hand came up, its palm lodging against the man's chest to restrain him. "No," she said, and the force of her voice stopped Green in his tracks.

"Go on, Green!" Bidwell insisted. "Strip her!"

"I said no!" the woman repeated. Her other hand came up from the folds, and suddenly her fingers were working at the wooden buttons of her cloak. The gaol-keeper, realizing she had elected to disrobe herself, retreated to give her room.

Her fingers were nimble. The buttons came undone. Then Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница she reached up, pushed the hood back from her face and head, shrugged quickly out of her clothes, and let the sorry garment slide into the hay.

Rachel Howarth stood naked before the world.

"Very well," she said, her eyes defiant. "Here is the witch."

Matthew almost fell down. Never in his life had he seen a naked woman; what's more, this woman was . . . well, there was no other description but belle exotique.

She was no wizened crone, being perhaps twenty-five years or thereabouts. Whether by nature or due to the gaol's diet, she was lean Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница to the point of her rib cage being visible. Her flesh was of a swarthy mahogany hue, her Portuguese heritage. Her long, thick hair was black as midnight but in dire need of washing. Matthew couldn't help but stare at her dark-nippled breasts, his face reddening with shame but his eyes wanton as those of a drunken seaman. When he removed his gaze from that area, he instantly was attracted to the mysterious triangle of black curls between her slim thighs. His head seemed to be mounted on a treacherous swivel. He gazed into Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница the woman's face, and there found further undoing of his senses.

She was staring at the floor, but her eyes—pale amber-brown, verging on a strange and remarkable golden hue— burned so fiercely they might have set the hay aflame. Her face was most pleasing—heartshaped, her chin marked with a small cleft—and Matthew found himself imagining how she would appear if not in such dire circumstances. If his heart had been galloping before, now it was a runaway. The sight of this lovely woman naked was almost too much to bear; something about her was frail, deeply wounded Book: Speaks the Nightbird 9 страница perhaps, while her expression conveyed an inner strength the likes of which he'd never witnessed. It hurt him to view such a creature in this ignoble fashion and he sought to rest his eyes somewhere else, but Rachel Howarth seemed the center of the world and there was nowhere he could look without seeing her.

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