A Gypsy's Vow available at Liquid Silver Books.
A proper, level-headed woman. A handsome, wandering rogue. Sparks fly between them, but does the innkeeper’s daughter dare leave behind all that’s familiar to run away with a gypsy?
After managing her drunken father’s inn for most of her adult life, Bess is presented with an offer of marriage from a member of the local gentry. She should be thrilled at the proposed match with a man so far above her station, but knows Lord Wallace is more interested in the income from her successful business than he is in her.
One day while shopping in the market, she meets a charming stranger who shakes up her world. She’s unprepared for the onslaught of powerful feelings Alexi rouses in her as he woos her with passionate intensity. Now Bess must decide what she truly wants from life and how she chooses to live her future.
1902, Dorset, England
Sunlight sent fragments of light winking and dancing, catching Bess’s attention. Following the sparkles to the source, she discovered a small gold hoop in a man’s earlobe framed against glossy black curls. The man’s face was tan, thin and sharp-featured. He stood by a cart displaying leather goods to a prospective customer. Over his white shirt he wore an embroidered waistcoat that set him apart from the local tradesmen and farmers. From the ring in his ear and the flamboyant vest, she guessed the stranger was a gypsy.
Her breath caught as he looked at her from across the crowded marketplace with an expression so intimate it seemed he knew all her secret thoughts and frustrated wishes. His dark eyes were too knowing and too disturbing. A flash of white teeth rivaling the earring’s glitter illuminated his face and, without thinking, Bess smiled back. Then she blushed and quickly dropped her gaze to the raspberries she was sorting through.
“Buy the basket and I’ll throw in an extra pound. It’s nearly the end of the day and they’re going soft.” Sarah Pickett always had a deal for Bess. “You know I’d be happy to stop by the inn. There’s no need for you to come all the way to the market.”
“Thank you, but I don’t mind.” She didn’t mention that shopping trips were a welcome respite in her busy day, a chance to get away from the Thorn and Thistle.
She paid for the berries and was about to pick up the basket when a small body barreled into her. Bess bent toward the dark-haired child who’d fallen on his backside on the ground. “Are you all right?” Grasping his hand, she helped him to his feet and gazed into his black eyes. She smiled and ruffled his hair. “Where’s your mother?”
The boy pulled away from her and started to run again, only to be stopped by a hand clamping down on his shoulder. “Radge chav!” a low voice barked.
Bess lifted her gaze to the face of the gypsy man, scowling now as he lightly shook the boy and spoke harshly.
She reached out her hand. “It’s all right. He didn’t mean to run into me. I’m fine.”
“No, it’s not all right. Here.” He reached into the boy’s shirtfront, and when he removed his hand her purse dangled from it, strings cut. The man clicked his tongue as he rapped the boy on the back of the head and sent him on his way.
“Oh.” Bess was stunned. She hadn’t even felt the boy take it. The stranger offered her the purse, and their fingers brushed as she accepted it.
“I apologize for the little animal. I’ll let his parents know and make sure he’s punished.” Despite the disapproving words, his tone was mild. A foreign intonation accented his English. “But let me make it up to you. I’ll carry your basket.”
Her pulse raced as if he’d suggested something else. “No, thank you.”
“I promise I won’t steal it. Roma aren’t all thieves.”
Both of them had grasped the basket handle. Bess didn’t want to have a tug of war that might draw attention and end in spilled fruit, so she conceded with a small nod.
“Don’t you have a stall to mind?” She glanced at the cart he’d abandoned where another dark-haired boy who resembled the one who’d run into her was hawking belts, purses and shoes.
“Marius can manage without me. Where am I escorting you?”
“The Thorn and Thistle Inn.” Pulling her shawl tighter around her shoulders, she walked briskly through the crowd, aware of many pairs of eyes watching her and the stranger.
“Is the innkeeper’s daughter as prickly as the establishment’s name, Miss Andrews?”
She flicked a glance at him. “How do you know who I am?”
“I asked someone before I came over to speak to you.” His smile was even more overwhelming close up. Its brilliance stole her breath and made her heart skip a beat. No wonder gypsies were rumored to have magic powers. His sheer magnetism made her dizzy and had her consenting to things she never meant to, such as letting him carry her basket for everyone to see.
The man strode alongside her, moving gracefully and with an erect posture that suggested arrogance, or at least, self-assuredness. She was intrigued by the contrast between his obvious poverty--scuffed boots, darned patches in the colorful waistcoat and a rip in the shoulder seam of his shirt--and his almost regal bearing, as if he were royalty rather than an itinerant traveler.
“So, I know your name, Bess Andrews. Can you guess mine?” He flashed another grin that made him look like the very devil his question implied. Folk stories claimed Satan couldn’t say his own name, and one way he could gain power over a person was by getting them to say it. Bess understood the joke and couldn’t resist a smart retort.
His hearty laughter invited her to join in. “My name is Alexi Cosmescu.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she replied automatically, but walked even faster, anxious to be rid of his company and safely back at the inn. Common wisdom claimed gypsies were an illiterate, thieving, feckless lot, but this man was clever and well spoken and he made her nervous.
As though catching the drift of her thoughts, he said, “Do I make you uncomfortable? Perhaps you fear I’m damaging your reputation simply by talking to you? That’s a sad commentary on the world.” He sighed. “My people are slandered at every turn. Isn’t there a saying about letting God judge who’s righteous and who isn’t?”
They were almost to the edge of the square and the street that led to the inn. She should relieve him of the burden and send him on his way. “I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Cosmescu, but I really would prefer to walk alone. May I have my basket back?”
He faced her, looking deeply into her eyes. “I guess I was wrong. I saw you and thought something about you was different--that you wouldn’t be like them.” He nodded at the people buying and selling in the marketplace behind them. “Small-minded.”
“Just because I don’t wish to walk with you doesn’t make me small-minded.” His accusation upset her. She’d always considered herself more insightful than most of the people in this rural community. Books had opened her mind to the world beyond Framingham.
“No. I suppose not.” He extended the basket toward her. “But it makes you a fool, because now you have to carry this heavy basket all by yourself.” He winked, daring her to hang convention and take a chance.
She considered his challenging look and the fact that there was no one watching them any longer. What was the point in refusing his help now? “All right. Carry it for me, and thank you.” She walked on, acutely aware of his presence by her side.
“My people are camped in the hollow by Old Ford Road. You should come there this evening. You’ll see we aren’t the demons people make us out to be.”
She didn’t dignify his invitation with a reply. He had to know there was no possibility of her ever setting foot in a gypsy camp.
“You think I’m teasing, but I’m not. I like the way you look, Bess Andrews, and not just because you’re beautiful. There’s something about the set of your chin or perhaps your eyes that tells me you’re a strong woman and someone I’d care to know better. We won’t be here long so I can’t afford the time to court you properly.”
“Court me?” She stopped walking and gaped at him. “Is that what you imagine this is?”
He shook his head, setting his black curls and the small hoop in his ear swaying. “Perhaps ‘court’ isn’t the right word. My English is not always perfect.”
“Oh, I think your English is fine and that you said exactly what you meant. But this is flirting, not courting, and whichever it is, I’m not interested. At the inn I’m often approached by traveling salesmen. I’m not naïve. I know what men like you want.”
“What is it you think I want, Miss Andrews? To ravage you? I’m no barbarian. I only want to spend a little time with you.”
9:30 AM |