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The Witch Hunter...

Here’s an introduction to my Witch Hunter series… a paranormal, mystery romance set in Scotland in the late 1800s. Release date yet to be determined. I’ve so enjoyed writing about this unlikely couple, so please let me know what you think of them.  A bit of a change from Highlanders but fear not more Highlander books are on the way!

~~~~

Prologue

     “Baphomet, I beseech thee, do my bidding and my soul is yours.”

The black-robed figure lifted the pearl handled athame off the stone altar and purified the silver blade in the black candle’s flame. The woman pressed the hot blade to her palm and slowly sliced across it. She sighed at the feel of her warm blood spilling along her cool flesh before it dripped into an alabaster-lined bowl.

Once a sufficient amount was collected, she smiled and raised the bowl to the full moon. “Dark lord, grant me what I seek and I am forever yours.”

Clouds suddenly rushed furiously across the night sky blotting out the bright full moon and a sharp, chilled wind ripped through the warm spring evening whipping up leaves and twigs off the ground and swirling them around the altar.

The figure threw back her head, her hood falling free along with preponderance of brilliant red curls. Her throaty laugh echoed in the dark woods sending the birds to take flight and the creatures of the night to scurry for shelter.

“I am yours, Baphomet, I pledge my soul to you.”

A deafening crack of thunder shook the earth and the candles’ flames surged to the night sky before extinguishing.

The woman dropped the bowl and it broke, her blood spilling on the stone altar while she spread her arms in supplication.

She felt the harsh jolt from behind and smiled.  Baphomet had arrived.  She would have what she desired and she would give to him, her master, whatever he demanded.

The clouds dissipated leaving the full moon to shine brightly and cast a strange luminous glow on the pooled blood. The woman’s eyes widened in delight, watching blood pour and collect in the crevices of the scared altar. She pressed her hand to her stomach, anticipation of her master’s great powers overwhelming her to the point of pain.

She jerked it away frightened by the warm wetness and stared in horrified shock at her blood-soaked hand.

“You are mine now,” the guttural voice whispered from behind her.

Her dying breath acknowledged her master. “Baphomet.”

 ~~~

 Chapter One

     I implore you Simon to give up this senseless search for this phantom book.  It does not exist; it never has existed. You make a fool of yourself chasing a mythical object —not that making a fool of yourself is unusual for you— being you hunt witches. But this book Simon, if it does exist, is not something you should possess. It is something that should be destroyed.

 Now that I have chided and warned about your nonsensical quest, it is my sorrowful, or perhaps gleeful, duty to inform you that the book you sent me, to this God-awful nether region of England, to inquire about is not the book you search for. Though it does contain information I am sure will interest you, so I purchased it, negotiating a fair price mind you, since I refused to pay the exorbitant asking price.

     I will be taking my leave of this dreadfully dreary place and return home to Scotland within two weeks time, and I would advise that you have a bottle of that superb brandy of yours on hand when I arrive to assuage my senses.

                                                            Your trusted and loyal friend,

                                                             Malcolm Chandler, Earl of Hodgton

Simon Quigley, Earl of Peregrim dropped the letter from his long-time friend on the small, marble-topped table beside his chair and rested his head back against the Moroccan leather. He had hoped this time…

He shook his head.  “There will come a day I will hold you in my hands.  It is a promise I made and a promise I shall keep.”

He stretched out of the chair to his full six feet one inch height, adjusting his tapered silver brocade vest so that it rested comfortably over the waistband of his black wool trousers and paced before the white marble trimmed fireplace.

The mysterious book had eluded him for far too many years—ten to be exact—when he was a mere twenty-two years old he had begun his quest that had eventually led to the conception of his witch hunting business. Now he was a mature man of thirty-two and still no closer to finding the elusive book, though he had found many other occult objects of interest and had developed his business into a successful and profitable venture.

Not that he required profit. He was wealthy, coming from very old money and a family who was pragmatic enough to see that it was invested wisely for future generations, unlike many aristocratic families who invested poorly or squandered it away without care to those who came after them.

His wealth thus gave him the freedom to pursue his passion—witch hunting, ghost hunting—anything of the occult.

He could not fathom that in the year 1895, five years before the turn of the century that people continued to believe in witches and ghosts.  He found it even more ludicrous that the government had not yet repealed the Witch Act of 1563, which made witchcraft legally punishable and would actually persecute someone as a witch.

For the last ten years he had been documenting proof that witches and ghosts do not exist and never have. Along the way he had met many interesting people and visited strange and exotic places returning with a plethora of items to form a vast and informative collection of the occult.

His friend Malcolm shared his interest in the paranormal, though their beliefs differed.  Malcolm would on occasion help Simon, though he refused to partake in anything that remotely involved witches or ghosts.  He believed without a doubt that they existed and he wanted nothing to do with them.

Simon stopped pacing, turned his back to the fireplace and surveyed his private sitting room with an appreciative eye.  Here was where he kept many of his favorite pieces, ones he could take time to study and enjoy.  His collection was vast and divided between his townhouse here in Edinburgh and his manor home in the Trossachs.

One of his favorite pieces was the crystal skull he came across during his stay in India.  He walked over to the five-tier, mahogany, glass-windowed bookcase and opened the top tier, reached in and took hold of the skull.  It was magnificent, carved from a solid piece of crystal, the craftsmanship superb and only a guess at how it was crafted. Along with its mystery went a legend but then mysteries usually produced legends.

Supposedly there are five original crystal skulls and when they are all finally brought together again their secret will be revealed, a secret that will affect all humankind.

Simon replaced the skull, closed the top tier then opened the second one.  He reached in and carefully withdrew an athame made of pure obsidian, the sharp blade shimmered an iridescent blue. The athame was the ritual knife used for magic at a witch’s altar. This one being of special value since it was believed to belong to Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of War.

A gentle rap on the door had Simon returning the athame to its marble stand and closing the glass pane.

He turned to see Mohenjo standing in the doorway. Many believed this quiet and peaceful man from India was Simon’s manservant, but he was much more.  He was his true friend and comrade in the pursuit of justice concerning the occult.  He was gentle of heart and soul and firm in his beliefs.

“A young woman wishes to see you, sir, actually she insists on seeing you.”

Simon grinned. “She must be persuasive, since we both are aware that I do not entertain visits from any woman unless previously arranged.”

Mohenjo nodded slowly. “This I know and I cannot say what persuaded me to ask you.”

“Attractive and sweet perhaps?”

There was a thought-filled pause of silence before Mohenjo answered. “A woman of distinction and determination.”

Simon laughed. “Arrange an appointment with her.”

“I will attempt to do so, but she insists that this matter is of the utmost importance and that she must see you immediately.”

“Her persistence will outwit your gracious and patient manner?”

“She is unlike most women I have met.”

“A challenge then?”

“Most definitely,” Mohenjo said and turned and left the room.

A memory in time had Simon staring at the closed door for a moment.  He and Mohenjo had been friends for eight years, having met on Simon’s extended visit to India. He had been an assistant to an antiquities dealer and highly educated.  He stood only five feet four inches tall, but his peaceful manner and soft voice made him appear a giant among men.  Simon’s visit had ended abruptly when it was necessary for Mohenjo to make a speedy exit from his beloved India.  He and Simon rarely discussed the matter but in his appreciation of the rescue Mohenjo took over the duties of his manservant, though Simon never treated him like one.  And he was of great assistance in Simon’s work, his interest in the occult equal to Simon’s.

Simon was also grateful for Mohenjo’s ability to deal with the endless inquires from the aristocrats seeking a husband for their daughters. He simply had no time for such nonsense. His work came first and a wife would only interfere and even though he had made it known that he intended to remain a bachelor it seemed to make no difference.  There was always a woman somewhere who thought she could change his mind though thus far he had not met her and doubt he ever would.

Not that he had any intentions of never marrying; after all he did need an heir to inherit the Peregrim estates and wealth. However he intended to make certain he married someone who understood his passion for the occult and could live in a home that harbored strange and believed-to-be magical objects.

She would also need to understand that he would be traveling quite frequently and at a moment’s notice, so she would often be left on her own.

One day, he thought, but not now.  He was much too busy with his work and enjoying his life to be plagued by the notion of marriage.

Another rap at the door caught his attention and he turned to see Mohenjo, a bewildered look upon his face being nudged aside by a woman who entered his private sitting room with a flourish.

“I am dreadfully sorry for this intrusion, but it’s imperative that I speak with you, and please don’t think that your manservant didn’t try to stop me, but you see I have a forceful nature, which my uncle believes is the reason I have difficulty finding a husband, and which actually is the reason we are here in Scotland, but — oh, how rude of me. I haven’t introduced myself.”

Simon was struck speechless not only by her rapid tongue but by her beauty.  She had the most startling blue eyes, more clear and crisp than the finest sapphires, an exquisite face, her skin creamy and flawless, elegantly high cheekbones and full lips the color of blushing pink rose petals.  She was dressed stylishly; a pale gray day suit with a white blouse beneath, that buttoned to her slender neck and joining the collar together was a silhouette broach.  Her shiny black hair was piled high on her head and topped with a gray hat and a wisp of a veil that barely reached the brim.

“Hypatia Thornberry from America,” she said, extending her hand and a smile.

Her gorgeous smile stunned him even more but he managed to gather his lost wits and accept her hand.  He was surprised by the strength of her handshake, though it certainly matched her direct manner. And her accent had already alerted him to her heritage. Americans simply butchered the English language.

“I know you must think me rude, but I had to see you.”

Simon caught Mohenjo quietly retreating as he closed the door with a smile.  He would certainly hear about this later but for now Simon had no alternative but to deal with the verbose Miss Thornberry.

“Agnes McDonald made mention of you at lunch this afternoon and I knew as soon as I heard about your witch hunting business, you were the man I had to see. When I finally was able to extract myself from an endless string of boring social necessities without being obviously rude, I immediately took a coach here—”

Hypatia stopped abruptly and slowly turned, her eyes widening in interest. “This room is fascinating.”  Her glance traveled over the plethora of bookshelves stacked with leather bound volumes, some old and appearing to need a tender hand when read and objects so strange that they would most certainly cause people to cringe in alarm and framed paintings mingled with framed old maps displayed in eye-catching arrangements on the walls, but it was the ceiling that amazed her.

“I’ve never seen an astrological chart painted on a ceiling, it’s magnificent.  Whose birth chart is it?”

Simon was impressed that she was familiar enough with astrology to realize the ceiling was actually an astrological chart, though he had no intention of letting her know that the chart was his.

“What exactly do you want from me, Miss Thornberry?”

“Hypatia, please, after all I do hope we will be working together.”

“Working together?”

“Yes, of course. You see my uncle Theodore; the one I mentioned Earlier who believes my forceful nature prevents me from finding a husband, made arrangements for me to meet Robert Logan, Earl of Bothwell in hopes of uniting us in marriage.”

“You are an American heiress.”

Hypatia wasn’t at all surprised by his remark. “It is obvious that most American heiresses are on the hunt for a titled husband, and Robert Logan was quite enthusiastic about the meeting when my uncle contacted him.”

She at least had the decorum not to mention Robert’s precarious financial situation and how desperately he needed an infusion of funds to prevent him from losing his family estate.  While Simon was not close friends with the man, only meeting him on occasion at social functions, Malcolm was and had made mention of Robert’s difficulties.

“I must admit I was more enthusiastic about visiting Scotland than searching for a possible husband.  Robert seems a gentleman and a kind-hearted man.”

She obviously was not a good judge of character. Robert and his uncle Walter indulged themselves in gambling and women, the main two reasons why his family’s estate suffered great financial loss.

She sighed. “But I believe he has no idea that his family harbors a witch.”

Simon could not hide his surprise. “A witch?”

“Yes and the reason why I am here. You are a renowned witch hunter and I wish to hire you to find out who the witch is in Robert’s family.”

“Is there evidence to suggest that there is a witch in his family?”

“Oh my yes,” she said excitedly. “You see I was taking a walk on the Bothwell estate, I do so love to walk in the woods, nature is so very beautiful and so much can be learned from it.”

“Alone?” he asked surprised that she would be allowed to walk about the estate unattended and surprised that she favored nature.  He had not met many women who enjoyed a walk in the woods.

“Of course, I’m rather independent another reason—”

He interrupted. “Another reason why your uncle Theodore believes you have difficulty finding a husband.”

“You’re very perceptive, Mr. Quigley.”
“Lord Peregrim,” he corrected.

“I’m sorry, I forgot Agnes mentioned that you were titled and I must admit I’m ignorant when it comes to addressing titled gentleman and ladies.”

“I understand perfectly, after all you are from America.”

“A beautiful land where titles are meaningless.”

He felt as though he had just been put in his place with her smiling remark.

“Lord Peregrim, I really would like to hire you and money is no object. I could throw money away for the rest of my life and still have plenty left.  My father’s interests proved a financial windfall and when he and my mother past unexpectedly I inherited a gold mine along with other lucrative mines, a variety of businesses and more land than I would ever know what to do with.  I only share this with you so you know who you deal with.”

She did not boast she simply spoke the truth. “I appreciate your honesty, Miss Thornberry.”

“Good, for honesty is important when working together.”

He did not explain that he worked alone. There would be time to inform her of that, at the moment he was more interested in knowing about the supposed witch of Bothwell.

“Your walk in the woods, Miss Thornberry,” he reminded.

“Sorry, I do get distracted and my thoughts scatter.”

She was certainly right about that.  A quick mind was needed when speaking with the lady if one was to keep up with her.

“The woods,” she said, a bit confused and then, “oh, the witch!  Now I remember what I was saying.  My walk through the woods was quite breathtaking, the day clear, not a cloud in the sky, though I do find Edinburgh to have more gray days than sunny.”

Simon could see that the telling of her tale was going to take time.

“I was so absorbed in the beauty around me that I hadn’t realized I had walked deeply into the dense woods bordering Robert’s manor home, though the house itself seems more a castle to me.  It is so very large and with so many rooms. I got lost the first time I explored the place.”

“Alone?” he asked once again, though he knew the answer.

“Oh yes, and it was a grand adventure,” she said excitedly. “I heard a noise and thought I caught sight of a ghost, a flash of gossamer white out of the corner of my eye. But it was gone before I turned around.”

“You were not frightened?”

“Frightened of a ghost?  How silly, ghosts can’t hurt you.”

Simon grew annoyed. “No, but real people can.”

“You think I saw a real person?” she asked.

Simon shook his head. “Let us take one thing at a time… evidence of the witch.”

“Yes, as I was saying,” she began again. “I found myself deep in the woods, so deep that the sun had difficulty shining through the preponderance of trees.  Then suddenly I found myself in a small clearing and in the center of the clearing was a large flat stone perched on two huge rocks. I hurried over—”

“Without bothering to see if anyone was about?”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that. I must be more aware of my actions, I act before thinking.”

“Continue,” he said before she once again got distracted.

Her blue eyes brightened. “On the flat stone was dried blood.  I looked around and on the ground was more blood.”

Simon grew alarmed that without thought she would place herself in danger. “You have no business scouting the Bothwell estate grounds alone or the manor for that matter. There are many would-be practitioners of witchcraft who senselessly sacrifice animals in belief of gaining the devil’s favor.”

“The stone altar is on Robert’s land.”

“The Earl of Bothwell cannot be familiar with every inch of his huge acreage. Someone could very well have used the area without his knowledge.”

“Perhaps,” she said, but the twinkle in her eyes told him she was about to deliver a grand finale to her tale.

Hypatia reached into her reticule. “I found this near the base of the altar covered almost entirely by leaves and dirt. If a spark of sunlight had not pierced the thick woods and hit the gold, I never would have found it.”  She withdrew her closed hand and offered the object to Simon.

He held his hand out to accept it and Hypatia dropped it into his hand.

Simon examined the ring, which Hypatia obviously cleaned since there was no trace of dirt or blood on it. He was familiar with the Rune symbols engraved around the top and knowledgeable of their meaning, but to the untrained or uninitiated eye, it would appear nothing more than a ring with an intricate design.

“They are ancient symbols and they read I serve thee,” she explained as if he didn’t understand. “And the letter B in the middle obviously stands for Bothwell.”

“I am well acquainted with the Runes,” he said annoyed at her assuming he was not and surprised that she was. “How have you come by knowledge of them?”

“That question brings me to the other reason why I wish to hire you.”

“Keep focused, Miss Thornberry,” he reminded.

“I will get straight to the point, Lord Peregrim. I have always had a passion for the occult.  I have read and studied all the literature I could get my hands on. I have attended lectures even those that were obviously fraudulent so that I could better understand charlatans in the field. Every aspect of the occult fascinates me, and I wish to pursue my interest and learn as much as I can about it. I hoped to apprentice with you as you investigate the witch of Bothwell and learn your techniques.” She raised her strong chin. “I intend to start my own witch hunting business when I return to America.”

Simon stared at her until the silence grew uncomfortable and with a shake of his head he asked, “Are you completely insane? A woman witch hunter is absolutely ridiculous. Witch hunting is no profession for a woman. It is dangerous work that can find you in peril at a moment’s notice. It is not a hobby to dally in.”

“Hobby?  Dally?  I do neither,” she snapped. “I take the occult seriously, and I have had experiences that would raise the hair on a man’s neck and probably make him run screaming in fear.”

“A few strange experiences do not make you a candidate for a witch hunter.  Leave such perilous work to knowledgeable and capable men.”

“You will not teach me?” she asked directly.

“I most certainly will not, though I will investigate the witch incident for you.”

Hypatia snatched the ring out of his hand. “Don’t bother, I’ll do it myself.” She tucked the ring into her reticule and pulled the strings tightly shut then with a flourish she moved to her right to take a wide berth around him.

Her sudden movement caused a slight breeze that sent the letter from his friend Malcolm to slip off the table and fall near enough to the fireplace for a spark to catch and ignite it.

“Oh my,” Hypatia said and quickly hoisted her skirt up to stamp out the flame with her booted foot.

It happened so fast and Simon was so taken by a peek of her slim calves covered in black stockings that it took him a moment to reclaim his senses and by then Hypatia had stamped out the fire.

“I am so sorry,” she said bending down to retrieve the scrap of paper, all that was left of the letter.

“Do not fret, Miss Thornberry,” he said attempting to soothe her upset. “I have read it and it holds nothing of great importance, a mere note from a friend.”

A rap on the door had them both turning to stare at Mohenjo when he entered.

“I am sorry for the intrusion, sir, but Inspector Douglas is here and he says it is urgent he speaks with you. He waits for you in the study.”

The look in Mohenjo’s dark eyes suggested it was not a meeting that should be delayed.

Simon turned to Hypatia. “Forgive me. I must attend to this matter. Mohenjo will see you out.” He was almost out the door when he stopped and turned around. “Do not investigate the witch, I will see to it and inform you of my findings.”

He left before she could say a word and Mohenjo escorted her directly to the waiting coach.  A faint glow from the gas streetlight shed little light through the coach window, but it was enough for her to read the three words left on the small piece of burned paper.

Phantom, book, exists.

Hypatia gasped startled by the revelation.

Lord Peregrim, like her, searched for the Grimoire of the Old Ones!

~~~

So ends the month of Halloween Magic… hope you enjoyed it and… HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

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Susie Keithahn
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Oooooooooooooo, this is exciting!! More, more, more!!!