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WILLEM (The Witches of Wimberley Book 1) by Victoria Danann (1)


Prologue

 

 

In the year 1838 in England, only a handful of highwaymen still practiced the highly romanticized profession of stand-and-deliver. Deck Durbin persevered, fancying himself smarter and faster than the arms of law enforcement who were determined to make the roads safe for noblemen, and their women, once and for all.

After a particularly successful haul on the old Roman road that ran south all the way to London, Deck’s trail was picked up. He was chased through the Yorkshire Dales to his home base in Aysgarth, but couldn’t stop because he’d been unable to lose his pursuers. He doubled back to the southwest and crossed the River Ribble. Still they came.

He pushed his horse on through the hilly forest and knew that he was getting dangerously close to Pendle Hill. That didn’t bother him. In fact, it was his plan. He was counting on the widespread superstitious beliefs about the witches of Pendle Hill to cause the men who were after him to turn back.

It was a good plan, but they didn’t turn back. They didn’t even slow. Deck’s horse was slowing and couldn’t take much more. So when he saw a light in a cottage at the base of the hill, he galloped straight for it. There was a small barn off to the side that was visible by moonlight. He dismounted and pulled the horse in behind him.

Inside the cottage, Pleasant’s mother asked if she’d heard something outside.

“I did,” she said. “You stay inside. I’ll go see.”

Taking a lamp she went out into the night. It was cold and still. So she stopped and listened until she heard a horse’s snuffle and stamp of the foot.

The barn door was closed even though she was sure she’d left it partially open. Inside she held up the lamp.

“Who’s there?”

When Deck Durbin saw Pleasant illuminated by the lamp held aloft, he was so struck by her beauty that he temporarily forgot he was running for his life and, in fact, might have only minutes left to live.

“I, Beauty,” he said stepping into the light so that she could see who had addressed her.

Pleasant was just as taken with the highwayman who had run into her barn to hide himself from authorities. She didn’t particularly care what he’d done. What she cared about were the shiny chestnut curls that fell over his forehead and the warm golden-brown eyes that caused a flare of heat in deep in her heart and body.

“I’m running from the law,” he said. “If they catch me they’ll likely gibbet me.”

“I see. Why did you think stopping here would help you? Don’t you know where you are?”

“I do. But you don’t look like a storybook witch.” His eyes ran over her long, wavy black hair, pale green eyes, unnaturally red lips, and down to the nipples that stood erect from the cold pressing against the white underdress that showed above her black laced bodice.

“Appearances can be deceiving. Are you saying you’re not afraid of me?”

He took a step closer wearing a smile that belied the danger he was in.

“Should I be?”

Before she had a chance to answer that question, he grabbed her and pulled her into a kiss. Pleasant was just under twenty, but had never been kissed. The fact that she was kissing a stranger in her barn was scandalous, but she didn’t pull away. Her lips tingled from the contact that had ignited a fire.

When he pulled back, they both turned toward the sound of horses approaching.

Without thinking through all the implications and ramifications, Pleasant held both hands palm out in the direction of the sound and said something in a language Deck Durbin didn’t know.

At once the sounds of shouting and hoof beats vanished.

“You’re safe,” she said.

He was reevaluating his position on fairytales. “What did you do?”

“I caused them to forget why they are out riding in the middle of the night.”

He stared at her for a few beats before breaking into unrestrained laughter.

“Now what will you do for me?” she asked.

Deck came close, nuzzling her cheek, breathing on her neck, and said, “I have enough gold to go to Texas. Come with me. I’ll make you my wife.”

Pleasant Wimberley was a powerful witch who found herself powerless to access reason when she looked into the highwayman’s eyes. She was also not of an age to weigh fully the consequences of impulsive decisions.

So she said, “Alright. I’ll come with you, but make me your wife first.”

“A Christian wedding?” He raised his eyebrows.

She laughed. “No. My mother will perform the rite. But make no mistake. You’ll be bound nonetheless.”

 

And so it happened that they came to Texas in 1839, just a few years after the Battle of the Alamo. On the way to San Antonio, Pleasant pulled Deck to a stop.

She had a vision showing her that the road between San Antonio and Austin would become well-traveled. Pleasant recognized that the crossroads on the Blanco River and Cypress Creek would be an excellent site for an inn. That and, since she was pregnant by that time, the ride on the buckboard was very uncomfortable. She was ready to be done with the rigors of months of traveling.

Deck was dubious, but one look at the limestone ledges rising from the river was all he needed. They reminded him of home in Aysgarth and, taking that as a sign, he agreed to Pleasant’s proposal.

Comanche raids were still common at the time, but warding the place against violence wasn’t a particularly difficult task for Pleasant. For good measure, she extended the charm’s range of effectiveness for twenty miles in every direction.

Deck was honest about his inclinations. He said he was no innkeeper, but he’d keep himself busy trading horses. His gift for spotting fast horses had kept him alive long enough to put together the gold necessary to strike out for Texas. There was no reason why he couldn’t put it to good use.

 

For a year they were happy. The Charmed Horse Inn had quickly gained a reputation as a place where travelers might get a good meal, a clean bed, and a good night’s sleep. They had a little girl with her mother’s black wavy hair and her father’s golden eyes. Both parents doted on her like she was the first child ever born.

Deck was fairly certain he would never be apprehended so far from England, but thought it would be prudent for the family to take Pleasant’s last name, which was Wimberley, just to be extra safe.

Try as he might, Deck couldn’t remake himself into a family man. The dashing devil-may-care highwayman who exuded a sexy recklessness, had a heart that couldn’t be tamed.

He left during the night and rode to San Antonio, attracted by the many tales he’d heard in the tavern. Tales of Spaniards, French, Creoles, civilized Indians, and half-breeds; all engaged in hunting buffalo or in contraband trade with Louisiana, which had been going on ever since Jean Lafitte had made Galveston a pirate base.

When Deck reached San Antonio and considered his options, he didn’t fall in with buffalo hunters or contraband runners. He joined the Texas Rangers. It would have been ironic, highwayman turned lawman, except that it wasn’t unusual for Rangers to have been on the other side of the law at some time or other.

When Pleasant realized Deck was gone, she was devastated and inconsolable. Not so much so that she was willing to turn the man she loved into a pig and serve him up in a bean and ham soup to customers at the tavern. But enough to raise the innate power of the crossroads, and use it in a spell to ensure that any witch who came to that locale would be courted only by a man besotted with true love.

What she didn’t understand was that she was loved truly by Deck Durbin. It seems that love, even when potent and profound, cannot always prevail over a wild nature. When Deck got leave from the Rangers, or passed close to the Charmed Horse Inn, he would stay for a few days, make love to his wife, and kiss Pleasant’s tears away in the night.

She lived from one visit to the next, but was occupied running a business and raising a family alone. Even though Deck visited a few times a year, he fathered two more daughters with Pleasant. All three were equally beautiful. And powerful.

The power of the spell she cast over the crossroads at Wimberley attracted witches from far and wide. Because after all, power centers act like magnets to witches.

In time the town that sprung up around the inn and horse ranch, would come to be called Wimberley after the witch who founded the settlement.

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