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Matthew Cavewood, a brilliant young historian, is obsessed with an enigmatic 17th-century alchemist, Nathaniel Shawcrosse, whose work prefigures modern theories of mind and matter. His biography of Shawcrosse promises to win him a coveted professorship at the University of Virginia, and with a strong, loyal fiancee and a newly-restored house in Charlottesville, he's poised for a breakthrough in his scholarly career.
Then one day while at work in his study he is visited by an apparition, a stunningly beautiful girl in seventeenth-century dress who is hauntingly - and erotically - familiar. Can she truly be real? Her presence is tangible and her touch irresistible, and though is defies all logic and reason, Matthew becomes convinced that she is Shawcrosse's mysterious young mistress, Isabel Hardiment, returned in the flesh. Inexorably their paths entwine, and gradually Matthew loses himself in the grip of a fateful obsession as, under the spell of herbal preparations, she takes him back into Nathaniel's world.
Consumed by passion and enslaved by the fascination, Matthew becomes ensnared in Isabel's own dark, vengeful heritage and the centuries-old score she has come back to settle. Swept into a maelstrom of desire and obsession, he finds himself faced with a terrifying choice that threatens his career, his marriage... and his very life.