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Mackenzie Yarborough, one of the three FIGs—Females of Intellectual Genius—finds herself facing a terrifying death of an ancient evil dragon while in China working on a secret research project and trying to discover the truth of her birth parents.
Lyuba was startled awake by the screeching of the magpie. It was the third morning in a row the large bird had settled on the crooked branch of the tall elm tree outside her hut just before dawn. She had studied the Tarot late into the night to determine the meaning of the magpie’s warning, but the message was clouded and obscure—its purpose stubbornly hidden. She only knew it had to do with her precious daughter, Carolina, and the three orphaned students whom her daughter loved and cared for—Dara, Mackenzie, and Jennifer, all three geniuses born with special talents that couldn’t be explained.
The Comino Gypsies, or Black Tribe as they were sometimes called, had been staying near Frascati, Italy, less than 10 kilometers south of Rome, the nearest of the Castelli towns. As in times past, the gypsies camped on a hill, once called Tusculum by the ancients, in the shadows of the Villa Mondragone, so named because of the many dragons carved in its brown stone edifice. The gypsies simply called it the Old Villa, and they had made this their home during the warm months for as long as anyone could remember. Even before there was a Villa Mondragone.
Originally built on Roman ruins in the sixteenth century, it had survived through the centuries as home to various Catholic cardinals and periods of abandonment until most recently when it had been sold by the college of the Jesuits to the Second University of Rome. From their camp, it
was an easy walk into the rural village of Frascati. Many of the villagers living there who were advanced in age still held on to many of the old beliefs, making it easier for the gypsies to sell their wares. Through the years, the travelers and the settlers had enjoyed a mutually beneficial association. But even in Frascati, there was the hint of change; it was a different generation—younger and less experienced to the ways of life and less patient. Lyuba noticed it; the others from the tribe who made daily visits did as well. It was just a matter of time before it would become a destination for tourists, with its fancy wine and its historical villa, and the old beliefs would be cast aside and forgotten.
Once it had been a place of heart-breaking sadness for Lyuba, for it was here where her young daughter barely three years of age—Carolina—had been taken from her by the Italian authorities. In her unrelenting sadness, she had felt a great darkness toward the person responsible and taken revenge, something for which she would regret the rest of her life.
Lyuba was a choovihni—a wise woman, an exalted and envied position among gypsy women. As her birthright, she and she alone had been given the responsibility to pass on the knowledge of the travelers to those who would follow, but it was rare to find a child born with the natural gift. In all her years as a choovihni, she had only known one—her own—the beautiful one that was taken from her so long ago. And because her child—Carolina—had also been born with the gift, she was able to find her mother many years later, the Kaulo Camio, a black gypsy who went by the name of Lyuba, there in the shadows of the Old Villa. The zee, the essence of all life both animate and inanimate, had been forgiving of that one vengeful act and chose to smile upon Lyuba. Now, returning to the shadows of the Old Villa for the warm summer months was a source of great joy.
With the knowledge of gypsies from the beginning of time running through her veins, Lyuba had the ability to communicate in a way that no other could. Carolina had that same ability, although she didn’t completely understand it—not yet. But in certain situations, especially if there was danger near, she would hear her mother’s voice, warning her, telling her what to do. That ability had saved Carolina from the gypsy boy’s curse, the wicked son of the Bandoleer. It had also helped Carolina and her three gifted students when they were lost deep inside the bowels of Grand Central Terminal searching for Dara’s mother. There would come a time when Carolina would be able to communicate in the same way as her gypsy choovihni mother and also be heard. That time was drawing near.
As Lyuba listened to the sharp cry of the magpie, she prepared a cup of sassafras tea, the root and leaves taken from the tree in the early morning dew just before dawn, that time of day when the benefit of its essential oils were the strongest. Perhaps the leaves would reveal what she needed to know.
She felt a sense of urgency. Soon her tribe would be departing this place on the hill near the Villa Mondragone, for it was that time of year when the shadows lengthened and the cool darkness of night more quickly replaced the warmth of day. They would need to travel south to another place and set up their camp away from winter’s chill. She would prepare a special duk rak, her own psychic shield. Perhaps that would ease her anxiety.
Author bio and links
Originally from Carrollton, Illinois, author/agent/publisher Barbara Casey attended the University of North Carolina, N.C. State University, and N.C. Wesleyan College where she received a BA degree, summa cum laude, with a double major in English and history. In 1978 she left her position as Director of Public Relations and Vice President of Development at North Carolina Wesleyan College to write full time and develop her own manuscript evaluation and editorial service. In 1995 she established the Barbara Casey Agency and since that time has represented authors from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In 2014, she became a partner with Strategic Media Books where she is involved in acquisitions and day-to-day operations and oversees book production.
Ms. Casey's two middle-grade/young adult novels, Leilani Zan and Grandma Jock and Christabelle (James C. Winston Publishing Co., Trade Division) were both nominated for awards of excellence by the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, the National Association of University Women Literary Award and the Sir Walter Raleigh Literary Award. Shyla's Initiative (Crossquarter Publishing Group), a contemporary adult novel (occult romance/mystery), received a 2003 Independent Publisher Book Award and also an award of special literary recognition by the Palm Beach County Cultural Council. The Coach's Wife (ArcheBooks Publishing), also a novel for adults (contemporary/mystery), was semi-finalist for the 2005 Dana Award for Outstanding Novel and listed on the Publisher’s Best Seller List. The House of Kane (ArcheBooks Publishing), released in 2007, was considered for a Pulitzer nomination. Another contemporary novel for adults, Just Like Family, was released at Christmas 2009 when it received “Special Recognition from the 7-Eleven Corporation,” and The Gospel According to Prissy, also a contemporary novel written for adults, received a 2013 Independent Publishers Book Award for Best Book in Regional Fiction.
The Cadence of Gypsies, a novel written for young/new adults, was released in 2011 and was reviewed by the Smithsonian Institute for its List of Most Notable Books. In 2012, The Cadence of Gypsies was expanded into a four-book mystery series called THE FIG MYSTERIES: The Wish Rider (2016), The Clock Flower (2018), and The Nightjar’s Promise (to be released in 2019).
Ms. Casey also writes book-length nonfiction for adults. Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly was released in 2016 and has been optioned for a major movie. In 2018 her book Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave was released and it has been signed for a major movie.
Ms. Casey's award-winning science fiction short stories for adults are featured in The Cosmic Unicorn and CrossTime science fiction anthologies. Ms. Casey's essays and other works appear in The Chrysalis Reader, the international literary journal of the Swedenborg Foundation, 221 One-Minute Monologues from Literature (Smith and Kraus Publishers), and A
Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation). Other award-winning articles, short stories, and poetry for adults have appeared in both national and international publications including the North Carolina Christian Advocate Magazine, The New East Magazine, the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer, the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Sunday Telegram, Dog Fancy, ByLine, The Christian Record, Skirt! Magazine, and True Story. A thirty-minute television special which Ms. Casey wrote and coordinated was broadcast on WRAL, Channel 5, in Raleigh, North Carolina. She also received special recognition for her editorial work on the English translations of Albanian children’s stories.
Ms. Casey is a former director of BookFest of the Palm Beaches, Florida, where she served as guest author and panelist. She has served as judge for the Pathfinder Literary Awards in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida, and was the Florida Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators from 1991 through 2003. She is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and writers’ conferences around the country including the SCBWI Regional Conference, the Harriett Austin Writers Conference in Athens, SIBA (Southeastern Independent Book Sellers Association), Florida Writers Association, and the University of Auburn, Montgomery.
In 2018, Ms. Casey received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments in the field of publishing and other areas. She makes her home on the top of a mountain in northwest Georgia with her husband and Benton, a hound mix who adopted her.