Carlotta’s breath wedged tight in her throat. Desperate, terrified, she…
“My lady!” The aging maid’s voice was muffled through the…
“Gregors,” Savaana said, then paused on the stairs, hand just…
Sean reined the mare to a halt and leapt from…
Savaana sat alone in Clarette’s bedchamber, once again studying her…
Fifty years later Sean would never be certain why he…
Savaana moved straight and true down the stairway. Her nose…
It was nearing dusk when Gallagher eased the quiet chestnut…
Savaana held her image with an iron grip. Two days…
Gallagher watched the lady’s expression of distaste as she squatted…
It was as dark as sin beneath the towering walnut…
Sense came slowly back to Sean’s feverish brain. He closed…
His lips felt like lightning against hers, burning on contact,…
Sean stared up at the ceiling, fingers linked behind his…
“Why London?” Sean asked, but kept his gaze steady on…
Was she insane? Gallagher probably thought so. And maybe he…
“Hello,” Sean said, and stepped fully into the jeweler’s shop.
They were running. She was exhausted and hungry and scared.
Passion trembled between them. She was beauty itself. Beauty and…
Savaana’s heart was galloping like a runaway in her chest.
They stared at each other over the baron’s slumped head.
Savaana opened the door to her room as quietly as…
It was morning. Still, Sean paced his rented room like…
Savaana felt as if she was in hell. Or perhaps…
Savaana felt her mouth drop open.
Clarette spun about. Their savior was there, not fifty feet…
The water shattered like glass when Savaana struck it. It…
Sounds settled slowly in around Sean. Like sunlight through distant…
“You should have told me you were injured.” Savaana was…
Savaana watched her sister stumble onto the path. Then she…
Janica Ellabeth Beloreich, Queen of Delvania, wore a gown of…
arlotta’s breath wedged tight in her throat. Desperate, terrified, she arched away from the bastard behind her. His blade felt sharp and cold against the pulsing vein in her neck. His stench filled her nostrils just as fear filled her soul.
She was caught. Helpless. So close to freedom, so close to hope. El Rey was nearby. Still bridled, he was the very embodiment of speed and strength as he stood in the inky blackness beyond the reach of the flickering torches. The darkness called to her, beckoned her with its promise of safety. Of solace. If only she had listened to her instincts, had left while there was still time. But too late now. Ramone Ortiz Delgado had returned just as he’d vowed he would.
“So I’ve found you.” His words were a chuckled hiss against the loose web of her wild hair. He stood behind her, fingers clawing like talons on her bare arm, malice oozing from his detestable being. She could taste his evil,
feel his despicable desires. “With no one near to hear you scream.”
She closed her eyes. She had played out this nightmare a hundred times, had thought through every move. But all her well-laid plans were dissolving in the cold reality of her terror. Who was she to think she could escape him? She was alone in the world, poor, young, destitute. While Delgado was wealthy, powerful. All the things she was not. All the things she could never hope to be.
Yet she was Romany. That knowledge trickled slowly into her battered psyche.
She was Gypsy. A race as ancient as the sky, as unpredictable as the wind, unbowed by time and travail.
The thoughts sizzled silently through her frozen muscles, firing her memories, straightening her spine. Royal blood raced through her throbbing veins, the fierce pride of her elders blooming like a primrose in her quivering soul. Her people did not accept defeat. Did not lie down for the slaughter like a milk-fed lambkin.
Nay, she would fight till the death, she vowed, and with that influx of courage, she gritted her teeth and slammed her elbow into Delgado’s ribs.
He grunted in pain, stumbling backward, and in that instant she lurched away. El Rey bent his great neck toward her, ears flickering. If she could but reach him …
In that instant, Delgado’s fingers tangled in her hair. She screamed as she was ripped from her feet and spilled
to the ground, but for a second she felt his grip loosen. Gathering every ounce of her strength, she curled into a ball, then tumbling full circle, sprang to her feet and leapt away, bright skirts flying, wild heart thundering.
El Rey waited, piebald hide gleaming in the firelight. Three more powerful strides and then she launched. Her hands landed atop his solid croup and she was astride him. But Delgado was as quick as a weasel and just as crafty. He snatched at her leg, trying to pull her down.
“Come, little slut,” he snarled, and tore at her. “I’ll have you now.”
She rasped a denial, but her strength was ebbing, fleeing from her trembling arms. She felt herself slipping toward him and twisted her fingers into the gelding’s tousled mane.
Delgado laughed, evil personified. “I’ll have you,” he snarled. “You and your pretty sister after you.”
It was the thought of her family that drove strength back into Carlotta’s limbs, that shot fire into her soul. Yanking her foot away, she kicked at his face. He jerked aside. Her bare heel slammed against his shoulder, driving him away. But his grip never faltered. Anger flared in his eyes. Promised retribution twisted his lips. His gritted teeth gleamed in the scattered light.
“For that you will not die quickly,” he snarled.
She grappled for a better grip, grabbing for the pommel, and suddenly her fingers met steel. They skimmed the hilt
of her dead father’s sword. A thousand thoughts hurtled through her mind. Hope slashed through her, swung by desperation, honed by instinct. Yanking the blade from its scabbard, she swept it sideways in one desperate arc.
Delgado’s eyes jerked wide. He clutched his throat with splayed fingers, gasping and staggering. His feet faltered. His breath rattled. He dropped to his knees, eyes staring, shocked that he could die. And then he fell, toppling forward into the dirt.
Silence ruled the night for all of three aching seconds.
Carlotta’s heart raced like a galloping stallion in her chest.
And the crowd roared.
Savaana Alaina Hearnes glanced up, coming back to herself, out of the trance she created for each performance. Carlotta’s indomitable persona was left behind, stowed away to wait in quiet suspension for the next show. As for Savaana, she smiled a little as she raised her left hand in greeting and scanned the audience. Perhaps she, like Carlotta, was searching for someone who had long ago abandoned her, someone with ginger hair and familiar mannerisms, but if that was the case, it was all subconscious now.
The anonymous crowd was spread across the westerly hill like scattered wildflowers, rising to its feet in one great wave of motion, clapping, yelling, tossing posies
and love sonnets, some crying as they cheered. These Gajo were not afraid to show their emotion.
Tamas rose to his feet, unscathed, no longer the despicable Delgado, but the talented Rom she had traveled with for most of two years. He flashed his charismatic smile, thanked them in a voice completely unlike the accent he had adopted for their performance, and waved.
The applause grew louder, peppering its approval with the boos and hisses that assured them he had been convincing. He lifted a hand to Savaana, and she climbed to her feet upon El Rey’s sturdy back. Her bare toes settled against the well-worn leather of the saddle as she acknowledged the crowd, throwing kisses from her fingertips.
Pandemonium ensued. Whistles and promises and proposals were flung generously into the evening. Daisies bound in scarlet ribbon sailed through the air, striking the big gelding’s crest and flanks before falling to his heavy hooves. And now, with an almost inaudible signal from Savaana, El Rey lifted his feathered legs and pranced in a tight circle, heavy neck arched in response to the crowd’s applause. His rider, slim as a willow switch and tough as whipcord, swayed with his rhythm, still waving, shifting smoothly on his broad, creased back. The crowd roared. She smiled, threw one last kiss, then directed her mount toward the dark comfort of woods.
Disappearing was the only way she knew to make the crowds disperse. She had learned that while still a girl.
Even then her act had been one of passion and hope. For more than a decade the crowds had cried for her tortured character, applauded her lusty courage, cheered her timeless revenge. Even as a scrawny, nervous child of twelve they had cheered for her.
Now she was neither scrawny nor nervous. Now she was Savaana Alaina, Gypsy maiden, wanderer, Rom.
She was also tired, she thought. Slipping from Rey’s powerful back, she tucked the hem of her bright layered skirts into her belt for easier movement through the woods. It was the costume the Gajos expected to see her in, therefore it was the costume she wore. But it was entirely unlike the comfortable, earth-toned gowns she favored for everyday life.
Loosing the side reins that kept El Rey’s head in check, she scratched the big gelding’s bicolored ears. He canted his head toward her, half closing his eyes to her ministrations before following her to their encampment.
A trio of globed lanterns glowed from the bowing branches of a rowan tree, but no one was about. Everyone in the Dook Natsia clan worked, for they were not called the Magic Gypsies without reason. Indeed, each miraculous performance took a tremendous deal of effort. Every member of the troupe had appointed tasks, but there was little to do now except collect the coins given by the villagers. And that job fell to the smallest children.
Passing an ornately painted caravan that stood
unhooked beside the bustling stream, Savaana tapped its bowed ribs.
“Is all well, Grandfather?” The language she spoke was as ancient as her heritage. English was only used for the entertainment of the Gajos.
“Well enough for a gaffer,” said a voice beside her, and she jumped as the old man stepped from the darkness.
Ever surprised that he could still startle her, she shook her head in mock disapproval. “Why are you not abed?” she asked, and loosing Rey’s girth, pulled the saddle to the ground.
The old man laughed as he strode toward her, his back still straight, his figure as slim as a boy’s. “You did not think a small thing like my impending death would cause me to miss your performance, did you, Printesa Dulce?”
“Don’t say such things,” she scolded, but he laughed.
“What things should I fear to say, Printesa? That I am about to die?” He had called her sweet princess for as long as she could recall, though in the truest sense of the word she was probably not even Rom. Just a child left in haste with the Gypsy wanderers.
“You’re going to be playing your mandolin by the river’s edge for another two decades at the least,” she said.
“Whether I wish to or not?”
“Yes,” she insisted, and he laughed at her resolve.
“I am not afraid of the great beyond. Only the puny
here,” Grandfather said, and nodded toward the confines of the nearby caravan.
Despite Savaana’s worry, she smiled at him. He had been her light in the darkness for as long as she could recall. The one person upon whom she relied.
Oh, there were others. There must have been, but those memories were little more than faint wisps of her imagination, like a scent of something from a distant place. Indeed, maybe they were not even that. Perhaps what she thought she remembered were only the stories Grandfather had told her. The stories of the red-haired woman who brought her to him. An enchanting creature with a voice like an angel. She’d been draped in diamonds, he said. But when pressed, he admitted that her clothes were ragged and her eyes haunted. Indeed, he had never seen the jewels she was said to wear. That was his brother’s part of the tale. His brother whom they had buried more than a decade before. Sometimes the account included another child. A ginger-haired baby she had kept, while leaving Savaana in the care of strangers.
“The nights are becoming chill,” she said now, and pushing the painful questions aside, allowed Rey to graze while she tugged the old man’s collar around his scrawny neck. “You should be resting.”
death. Which means I am not yet ready to lie down and—” he began, but even as he said the words, he coughed, bending nearly double with the paroxysm.
Worry gnawed at her. She was not the poor ingenue portrayed by Carlotta’s brave character, but that was all because of him. His generosity, his caring, his courage. “Get inside now,” she said once the coughing had ceased. “I’ll fetch your tonic.”
His scowl had frightened more than one Gajo who had pursued her too boldly, but to her, he was simply the personification of love, despite his grumpy demeanor. “I need no damned tonic,” he snarled.
“The physician said—”
“Physician!” He spat, and with his disgust, pride returned to his craggy features. “Charging you a king’s ransom for naught but a thimbleful of spirits. We do not need him. He does not know the way of the Rom. A tincture of wild cherry bark stirred in a warm draught of brandy is what will put me on the mend. Not some bland Gajo syrup.”
said,” she repeated, emphasizing carefully, “that the tonic will help heal your lungs. And that you must stay warm and sleep inside.”
He snorted, and she smiled.
“But I shall bring the tincture as well,” she said, and kissed his weathered cheek.
He scowled at her, a bold meld of arrogance and love showing on his toughened features. “It is you who should sleep inside,” he muttered. Her patent affection always embarrassed him. It was galling evidence that she had
been badly spoiled long before her arrival in their camp, he had told his wife. But Florica had laughed and said he would die without the child’s kisses.
Gently frayed memories brought tears to Savaana’s eyes, but she did not let them fall. ’Twas the way of the earth to take back its own, and Grandmother had lived a full life.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, and smiled, though Grandfather’s face looked more gaunt than ever. “You know I can’t rest without the wind as my song and the stars as my blanket. ’Tis the way of the wild Rom, is it not?”
He made a harrumphing noise. “’Tis the wild Rom that worries me most.” He scowled, watching her face. “I do not like the way Tamas looks at you. Like a wolf that has gone too long between meals.”
She laughed, trying to make light of it, though in truth she knew enough of the handsome Rom to be cautious of him. “To bed with you now, old man. Let me worry about hungry wolves,” she said, and after accompanying him to the caravan, led El Rey to the nearby stream.
But even as she did so, she felt someone watching her. There were eleven members in Dook Natsia. All of them were trusted friends, except Tamas, the man who so cleverly played Delgado to her Carlotta. Despite his marital status and four rambunctious children, he was interested in her. She had always known of his attraction, and perhaps that magnetism added a certain chemistry to
their act. A lively element of life. Until recently. Recently his attention had become gratingly irritating.
El Rey lifted his head and glanced toward the east, seeming to sense a human presence. His long, ghostly white mane ruffled softly in the almost imperceptible breeze. He pricked his ears, then calmly lowered his head to drink.
But the presence didn’t leave Savaana at peace. Who was it? Tattered memories stormed through her mind: a mother’s whispered lullaby, a giant’s snarling countenance, flight, harried and terrifying. But she was letting her imagination take control. The person who lurked nearby was most likely someone with whom she was well acquainted.
“Even the lichen know of your presence, Tamas.” Savaana said the words in English, for in truth she did not like to think of him as Rom.
But he didn’t answer. She gritted her teeth. Perhaps Grandfather was right. Perhaps Tamas was more dangerous than she knew. But what was she to do? Her act with him brought more coin than any of their other endeavors, including the wares their troupe sold during the day, and the tonic
expensive. “I believe I heard your wife calling,” Savaana said. “Go to her. And cease lurking in the underbrush like some conniving weasel.”