At the Lowara Gypsy Camp outside Windsor, England, in 1806, a young woman will lose her independence in a common marriage market transaction. Jade knows she is promised to Dimitri, a possessive abuser. Jade knows he will hurt her. Jade knows her freedom is gone.***
When her father sends her to the arms of another man, she finds only slight consolation...until she encounters her intended. Evan Dark is a half-Gypsy gentleman--nothing like Dimitri. Caught in a battle between tribes, Jade is a piece of property, the ideal runaway bride. In order to escape Dimitri's clutches, she sails for Charleston with Evan as his indentured servant. But, engaged to another woman as part of a plantation merger in South Carolina, Evan's affiliation with Jade can never be more than professional.
Evan must choose between fulfilling his obligation to marry his betrothed or accept his overpowering passion for Jade, a woman his matchmaking Gypsy grandfather deemed the perfect Romany wife. In nineteenth-century America, where insincere tradition meets old money and arranged matrimony in upper-crust society, Evan faces the most difficult decision of his life: Remain loyal to the fiancée he holds in commitment...or be true to the lover he holds in his heart.
"Not a bad disguise."
Evan inspected his reflection in the tavern window. The dark blue captain's uniform had been tailored for the figure of the man from whom he had stolen it, although the fawn colored suit underneath filled it out well enough. Measured to end above the backs of the knees, the coattail didn't reach as far on his tall frame. The fit was convincing enough if one didn't look too closely.
He tucked his hair beneath a black cocked hat and entered the tavern. The men searching for him wouldn't expect him to be wearing a British military uniform.
On the other hand, if the British authorities discovered him masquerading as one of their own, he would be hanged. Situated by the London docks, the smoke-filled tavern sat near a ship ready to sail for the Carolinas. Evan could dispense with his disguise once he and his uncle Joseph were safely aboard ship. If he never saw England again, it would be too soon. The six months following his mother's death had been filled with revelation. Everything he had believed to be true about his heritage and his life had faded like the ink on the pages of his mother's diary. Learning her secret had shattered his world.
The pub interior smelled like rancid fish and bilge water. It was still preferable to being outside. A torrential downpour had driven many to seek shelter in the pub. Conversation swelled around Evan as he chose one of the knotty maple tables near the entrance. He scanned a wall filled with posted notices while he waited for Joseph to arrive.
He glanced toward the entrance as a young woman in a dark, hooded cloak slipped inside the pub. Tall and slender, she carried herself with fluid grace, brushing rain from the garment as she crossed the room. She shook her head when the barkeep nodded toward the row of bottles and decanters behind him as he polished a tankard.
She drew back the hood of her cloak, yet didn't remove it, despite the clammy, crowded atmosphere. Was she among the many who sought temporary shelter from the storm? The murky light lent her an exotic appearance. Her long, inky hair shimmered with seductive blue highlights, the contrast rendering her creamy olive skin flawless. In daylight, she would either fulfill her promise of beauty, or be exposed as a maid whose features were softened by shadows.
Evan forced his gaze back to the doorway, but couldn't keep his attention from returning to the woman. A drunken sailor staggered toward her, dragging a well-worn chair. He placed the chair in front of her and made a sweeping gesture toward it.
"Rest yerself in me chair, bonnie."
He placed a dirty hand on her shoulder and shoved her into the chair. She frowned at the man's greasy, shoulder-length hair, his crumpled, filthy cotton shirt, threadbare breeches, and mud-caked boots.
The sailor's gaze sharpened, and he reached out and tugged at the collar of her cloak, revealing a necklace of gold coin. "Thass a Gyppie purse." He snagged the necklace from around her throat, swiftly levering it over her head.
She lunged for the necklace, but the sailor dangled the treasure out of her reach. The coins fluttered with a soft metallic jingle. Evan bolted from his seat, then froze and looked on in astonishment when the woman shrieked in outrage and dropped her ladylike demeanor with the speed of a ship dropping anchor. She dove at the sailor, her gaze fixed on the coin-studded strands of gold in his hand.
"No, bonnie, it be mine." The sailor chuckled at her attempts to grab the treasure he held aloft.
He continued to make sport of her until she kicked him in the shin. He howled and stomped in outrage as the necklace fell to the floor with a noisy jangle. She launched herself after it and pocketed the gold within the folds of her cloak. The sailor lunged at her, sucking in air and gasping as he grabbed her by the hair and hauled her up to face him. Evan kicked the chair aside and moved toward them.
"Ye'll pay fer tha', Gyppie. Ye'll 'ang by a long rope," the sailor warned.
She paled and went still. The intensity of her wide green eyes stunned Evan, and his jaw clenched at the image of her hanging from a rope at Tyburn or caged in a gibbet along the roadside.
"No, bonnie, dinna be afrighted. I be yer friend." The sailor chuckled, and a number of the men in the room joined in, their laughter ugly, lewd, and tense.
She attempted to twist from the sailor's grasp, but he jerked her back. She bit down on her lower lip. Evan couldn't decide whether her eyes sparkled with fear or defiance. Most women of Evan's acquaintance would have succumbed to an acute case of the vapors by now.
"Let her go." Evan's voice was loud, even in the din.
The sailor scoured him with a look of contempt. "Yer lordship," he sneered, spitting out the title as though it were a morsel of an inedible meal, "ye best leave."
Evan's gaze swept the room and settled upon a posted sign banning Gypsies, among others, from the establishment.
"Not without my prisoner," he said, flattening his tone to conceal his Southern drawl. To his own ears, his words still sounded like nah withou' mah pris'ner.
"What law have I broken?" she asked.
Evan frowned at her. He couldn't rescue her if she wasn't going to cooperate.
"That one." He pointed to the curling yellowed parchment as he stepped forward and tugged her out of the sailor's slackened grip. He urged her toward the door when she looked askance at him, her expression wary.
"No. The gyppie will go wie me." The sailor drew a stiletto from beneath the sagging waistband of his filthy breeches.
Evan grunted in surprise and stumbled forward when the woman shoved him toward the sailor. The sailor lunged, slicing the air with the knife blade as other men joined in the fight, blocking the sailor's path to Evan. Knocked off balance, Evan staggered into the boisterous crowd, catching glimpses of the woman as she fought to avoid grasping hands on her way to the door.
Skirting the common room, he made his way toward the entrance.
When he suddenly found himself face to face with her again, he seized her wrist and pulled her toward the exit as the skirmish deteriorated into a drunken brawl. Her fingernails bit into his forearms as she struggled to be free of his grip.
"I'm trying to help you, foolish woman. I won't hurt you."
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