Gwenyth Killigrew, the Witch of Kerrow, has seen the tragic fate that awaits any man she's foolish enough to fall in love with. Yet she yearns for a daughter to carry on her healer's wisdom and otherworldly gifts of Sight. When Rafe Fleming, a notorious smuggler, washes ashore near her home, she thinks she's found the man to father that child.
Rafe knew his time as an outlaw was coming to an end. He just hadn't realized it would be on the dangerous Cornwall coast, in the home of an alluring witch. After Gwenyth saves him, they strike a bargain: he'll give her a child, and she'll help him find a proper wife so he can reenter society and pick up the pieces of his shattered life.
But the more time Rafe spends with Gwenyth--in and out of bed--the more he questions what he thinks he wants. He must choose between the wife he needs and the woman he desires...if falling for Gwenyth doesn't kill him first.
It was the banging that woke her. Not the dream, for once.
Gwenyth rose and padded across the floor; no need for a taper. She knew the cottage in daylight and darkness. Only an illness or a birth brought someone to her door at this hour. Her mind instantly began to run through a mental list of things she would need--salves of camphor and oil of cloves for wounds and cuts, burdock and mustard for poultices, lovage and chamomile for brewing teas.
The banging sounded again. "Gwenyth! For God' s sake, woman, open up!"
A knot formed beneath her breast. It was Jago. Her brother' s visit at this time of night boded ill. She drew back the bar, but before she could touch the latch, Jago flung the door open. He stood upon the threshold, eyes white within his blackened face.
The knot became a stone.
"Gwenyth, for pity' s sake, help us."
Jago drew back into the shadows. She waited as he spoke in a harsh whisper to someone just beyond her vision. A low murmur answered, the voice weak and threaded with pain.
A muffled curse, a quick indrawn hiss of breath and Jago reappeared, supporting a man. As they approached, the stranger looked up, and Gwenyth' s suspicions blossomed into certainty. Jago bore Rafe Fleming upon his shoulder.
"Bring him in--quickly now," she said, peering out to sweep her gaze up and down the darkened street. No one stirred, though Gwenyth was sure that any neighbor knowing whom she sheltered would turn a blind eye. Too many benefited from Fleming and his illicit trade.
Jago half dragged, half carried Fleming into the cottage while Gwenyth hurried to light a lantern. "What happened?" she asked.
Sliding the glass down over the flame, she brought it to the table. Fleming slumped in the chair, a hand pressed against his side. Like Jago, he was dressed all in black. But unlike her brother in his homespun shirt and mud-spattered breeches, Rafe' s clothes were of the finest wools and linens and obviously made by a professional tailor. Running against current fashion, he wore his dark hair overlong and lashed into a short queue. A gold earring glittered in one ear.
She knew the captain by sight, but had never had an occasion to study him so closely. From afar, he had seemed pleasing, with the roped and corded muscles of a man who earns his living on the sea. Sitting across from him, she revised her opinion. With his long cheekbones and a cleft chin carrying the shadow of a beard, he evoked darker, more forbidden images. And even at rest, he seemed coiled to spring, like a wild animal--or a man with a price on his head.
"Fleming' s ship was set on by a revenue cutter off the coast," Jago explained. "They managed to fight the buggers off, but Fleming here was struck. He came ashore with one of the landing boats."
Gwenyth studied the captain of the Cormorant. He remained motionless, eyes closed in a pale, tight-lipped face. He breathed between his teeth in rapid pants as he clutched his side. But Gwenyth knew he listened closely to every word. He' d not lived so long and so well without being as canny a customer as ever plied the trade between Cornwall and the Continent.
She bent down, putting a hand out. "Come, Captain Fleming. Let me see your wound. From the looks of you, it must be hurting like the devil."
Fleming opened his eyes. Gray-green like the sea with a sweep of coal-black lashes, they raked her up and down with a weighing glance, lingering at the curves of her hips and breasts. "They say you' re the best healer on this part of the coast."