"Never!" Nicola held back her tears. She glared at the dark-haired man who stood on the other side of the table her father had used as a desk. Fergus Crawford always made her think of a snake. His dark and hooded eyes gleamed with the hypnotic power of a cobra. She swallowed the lump fear had formed in her throat. "My sisters and I will stay here. This house is ours."
His lips curled into a sneer. "
is no place for three lassies ta live with na male protection. Your pa and me
were partners and cousins. He’s sure ta name my guardian." Calcutta
Nicola drew a deep breath. He didn’t know about the arrangements her papa had made for them. "We will not leave our home."
"Then I will come here. ‘Tis a finer house than mine." His smile chilled her. "Time has come for me ta take a wife. Your canny eye for gemstones had made a fortune for your pa and me. I ain’t about to lose your skills."
Nicola swallowed a rush of bitter fluid. She needed time. If the escort didn’t arrive soon, she would have to take her sisters and flee.
He leaned across the table. "I think you’ll do nicely. You’ve a fortnight to make ready for the wedding. I’ll be away. Your pa lost something of great value. You sure there was na goodly sized sapphire in the last lot you sorted?"
She shook her head. She refused to tell him about the pouch her father had given her and the gems she hadn’t examined yet. "You saw all the gems there were."
"Search again. I want that sapphire." He clamped his hat on his head. "Twa weeks, lassie."
Once he’d vanished, the tears she’d held inside burst free with the same force as the monsoon rains now lashing the house. She sank to her knees on the carpet and pressed her forehead against her father’s chair. For a short time, she allowed grief and fear to dominate. Then, she wiped her face on the skirt of her black silk afternoon dress.
When would the escort arrive? Her insides churned at the thought of being forced into a marriage with Fergus Crawford. If he claimed guardianship of her sisters, who in
would protest? Why hadn’t her
parents said more about their families? Papa had been an orphan and Mama had
only spoken of a cruel father and a timid mother. She’d never mentioned where
they lived or said their name. England
Nicola had believed her life would continue in the pattern set after her mother’s death. She would run the house, supervise and teach her sisters and evaluate gemstones for her father. The trade in jewels provided monies for household expenses and to be sent to
to be invested. London
She rose from the floor and entered the parlor where her sisters sat. Margaret jumped up. "Did he hurt you?"
"He wouldn’t dare." At least not yet. Nicola shuddered.
"But I heard you crying."
"He says I must marry him." She gulped a breath. "He can’t stay here. We must be gone before he returns to the city."
"Where will we go?"
"Papa wrote to Mr. Grey months ago and asked for someone to escort us to
Nicola grasped the back of a chair. "We will go to our mother’s
family." She would see her sisters safe in London . Then she would return for she
couldn’t imagine living elsewhere." London
Margaret ran to the amah. The plump woman held the ten year old against her chest. Prabha’s ebony eyes filled with tears. The amah had been with the family since Nicola’s birth. She was the only mother Margaret knew."
Margaret stamped her foot. "I want to stay with Prabha." Her voice rose to a wail.
To forestall more tears, Nicola made a promise she wasn’t sure she could keep. "She will come with us. Sarad, too. You must pack your things and be ready to leave."
Once her sisters and the amah left the room, Nicola slumped on a chair. The fear she had hidden from them leaped into her thoughts like a tiger pouncing on a victim.
A short time later, she stepped onto the verandah and strode toward the rear of the house. The heavy rains had lightened, but the day remained gloomy.
She hadn’t told her sisters that their father had arranged a marriage for her. She thought of her parents and the closeness they had shared. She wanted to find the same kind of live, but how could she with a stranger?
"Papa," she cried. "Why did you leave us?"
Nicola whirled. "Namtase, Yogi Yakshi. I didn’t expect you today."
"There is much I must tell you before you leave this land." He put a hand on her arm to still her cries of protest. "You must listen."
She bowed her head. "I will hear."
"There is a gem, the Third Eye of Siva. The one who has the gem as a gift will receive all he deserves."
She frowned. Papa had mentioned Siva and the Third Eye. Cousin Fergus had demanded a large sapphire. Were they the same?
"I don’t understand."
"This is not the time for understanding. It is the time of flight from danger."
"Why did Papa leave us?"
The elderly man took her hand. "My child, each of us remains on this plain for an allotted time. Your father has completed his cycle and now embraces a new existence."
"How can you be sure?"
He smiled. "This is the way of things."
Nicola knew he would say no more on the matter. She leaned against the railing.
"In the distant past, wise men cast horoscopes for those born in the future. I have seen yours. You have tasks to perform. In a far land, you will meet one who needs your loving spirit to release him from the bonds he has tied around his heart and soul."
What did he mean? The yogi’s teachings were often oblique and filled with mystical meanings. "I don’t want to leave my home."
"To stay is to court danger." Dark eyes filled with wisdom captured her gaze. "Once you look into the Third Eye of Siva, all will be clear."
She swallowed. "I don’t understand."
"You must leave this land and fulfill your destiny. Forget not my teachings and choose your path to maksha carefully. The way of liberation from the cycles is difficult, yet each time you make the journey brings you closer to perfection."
Sadness wove a dark pattern in her thoughts. "I will return. I can’t live forever in a strange land."
"Love will bind you to the place of your people. The path to
strewn with boulders, but in the end, you will find all the love you seek. My
blessing goes with you."
Nicola bowed to him. "May your days be filled with enlightenment."
"And yours with learning. We have met before and our lives will be joined again."
"I pray you are right."
"Miss Nicola," Sarad called. "A man has come."
Nicola watched the yogi until he reached the garden gate. She wanted to call him back and ask him to change the words he’d said and to give her hope of a return. After he vanished into the mist, she followed Sarad into the house.
A slender, foppish man with graying hair paced from one side of the parlor to the other. At Nicola’s entrance, he paused. "Miss Gordon."
"Who are you?"
"Isaac Timmons, at your service. Mr. Grey sent me to escort you and your sisters to
Relief flooded Nicola. "When do we leave?"
"The ship sails in a week. I trust you will be ready."
She nodded. They would be safely away before Cousin Fergus returned to
"We’ll be ready. We’ve already begun to pack." Calcutta
"Very good." he smiled. "By the time we reach
the Earl of Denmere will have signed the marriage contracts." London
She wished to forget that part of her father’s plans. She turned away. Why must she wed a stranger?
After Mr. Timmons was settled in the guest room, Nicola went to her bedroom. She lifted the pouch of gems her father had pushed into her hand the night he died. In
, her sisters would be safe.
She tucked the pouch in her trunk. The gemstones would provide a means for her