Stolen Promiseby Lisa Marie Wilkinson
Cultures clash and passions collide when a stunning deathbed confession by his mother sends Evan Dark, the heir to a sprawling South Carolina plantation, to England in search of information about the father he never knew. Evan, a Southern gentleman who has just discovered his Gypsy heritage, cannot resist coming to the aid of a spirited young Gypsy woman, Jade of… See more details below
Cultures clash and passions collide when a stunning deathbed confession by his mother sends Evan Dark, the heir to a sprawling South Carolina plantation, to England in search of information about the father he never knew. Evan, a Southern gentleman who has just discovered his Gypsy heritage, cannot resist coming to the aid of a spirited young Gypsy woman, Jade of the Lowara tribe, who has fled her campsite after learning she is betrothed to a brutal clansman. Jade's father, seeing an opportunity to bring wealth to his clan through marriage, pegs Evan as Jade's bridegroom. Coerced into marrying Jade, Evan intends to abandon his Gypsy bride and return to South Carolina, where his own fiancée awaits him, unaware that she has been unfaithful with his half brother and that the two are plotting to challenge Evan’s status as heir. When loyalties divide and fortunes are at risk, will Jade's love be enough?
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"Plenty of adventure, some steamy interaction . . . make Stolen Promise excellent entertainment." Romance Reviews Today
"Fluently written and researched with profound characters." Dream Mistress, Realms of our Bookshelves
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"There are suspenseful scenarios to make your heart pound and amusing escapades to make you chuckle." Single Titles
"From England’s shore across the ocean to a young country forming traditions of its own. . . Stolen Promise is sure to steal every reader’s heart." Romance Roundtable
"All the passion, angst, heartache and deception necessary to ensure that there isn't a dull moment." RomanceJunkiesReviews.com
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By Lisa Marie Wilkinson
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Lisa Marie Wilkinson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Lowara Gypsy Camp
Outside Windsor, England, 1806
If she ran away again, her father would beat her.
Jade's heart pounded as she threaded her way through the caravan toward the red wagon trimmed in gold. The bittersweet lament of a violin followed her, mingling with the whine of hungry dogs attracted by the scent of rabbits roasting over glowing campfires. Why had her father summoned her?
A blast of wind cooled her flushed cheeks as she stepped onto the porch board of the wagon. The varnished white doors gleamed like moon faces. Jade took a deep breath and entered, pulling them closed behind her.
"Sit down, Jade," her father's deep voice rumbled.
Jade remained standing, waiting for him to speak. There would be no good news for a Roma woman who despised the ways of her people and had asked to live apart from them. She yearned to exchange her life in the traveling caravan for the existence of a house-dweller. She had glimpsed and tasted the Gadjo life, and wanted to know it again.
"Dimitri's father visited my wagon this morning, carrying the silver walking stick."
Her father sat before a table suspended from hinges near the cook stove. The acrid tang of pipe smoke clung to the air.Jade's eyes watered and her throat burned. A formal proposal of marriage had been made. Would her father bind her to Dimitri to punish her for running away? Jade stiffened and turned away to hide her apprehension, warming her hands over the grate. "Dimitri is the reason I ran away. He's a brute. No woman in camp wants him." She fought to keep her voice low and level, despite the accelerated pounding of her heart.
Her father's square jaw tightened. "I will not force you to marry Dimitri. Yesterday, I met with Culvato of the Wood tribe. They are camped near Runnymede. His tribe is small, but peaceable and wealthy. He offered a generous darro for you, and I accepted."
"You accepted my bride-price?" Her words came in gasps as the walls of the white-curtained wagon squeezed in on her. This was the form her punishment would take.
"There is a young man from Culvato's tribe who is half Gypsy and has lived among the Gadjos, as you have. It is a good match. When Dimitri learns I have allowed you to reject him, he will be angry. I want you to be safe."
"You sold me to a stranger."
"I protected you." His meaty fist banged the tabletop in emphasis. "No one will question a decision where a profit was made, not even Dimitri's father."
"What if the man you sold me to is worse than Dimitri?"
"Culvato says he is a good man."
"You trust him? Would Culvato tell his buyer the horse is lame? You will not be there to protect me."
Frustration and fear gripped Jade. Her mother and younger brother had died of fever because the Gypsies had no medicine and the Gadjo doctor wouldn't come. Her younger sister, Liberina, was a frail young woman. Liberina would be bartered in marriage and die before her time if she could not find a way to create a better life for them both.
Jade lifted her chin. "The elders could send Dimitri away, or I could live again among the Gadjos."
Milosh growled an oath and rose from his seat. His face turned crimson, in contrast against the green and blue peacocks embroidered on his shirt.
A wall-mounted tambourine jingled as his heavy steps crossed the red carpet. A Roma woman didn't challenge the decisions of the elders. As close to a beating as she had ever come, Jade cringed when he seized her by the front of her blouse and hauled her toward the front of the wagon.
"If you hadn't run away, there might be a man in this tribe other than Dimitri who would still marry you." He flung open the double doors and shoved her outside.
The dull thunder of her father's raised voice followed Jade into the darkness as he continued to berate her. The wind keened like a soul in torment. Rain began to fall as she wandered through the camp. Jade rubbed the gooseflesh on her arms as Gypsies ran in all directions around her, pulling down canvas tarps to secure the wagons against the oncoming storm as the thunder rumbled.
The thin fabric of her loose yellow blouse provided little protection against the cold. A feeble trail of tears stung her eyes and slid down her cheeks, mixing with the pelting rain.
Her sister Liberina stepped from the deep shadows between two wagons, her own eyes glittering with tears.
"Phei," Liberina said softly. Sister. She wrapped Jade in a green woolen shawl and urged her toward the nearest wagon, out of the rain.
"Liberina, Father has sold me."
Liberina made hushing noises as they hurried toward the shelter of the wagon. "Don't be afraid, sister."
"I'm not afraid. I'm angry." Jade fought to keep her voice steady. What would happen to Liberina if their father sent Jade to live with another tribe?
"You must marry Dimitri or the diddikai from Culvato's tribe." Liberina paused, then whispered, "Better to marry the stranger. Dimitri frightens me."
"I will not marry Dimitri, or the half-breed from the Wood tribe. I will run away." She could not return to the kind elderly couple in Dorset who had sheltered her the last time. It was the first place her father's men would look. Where could she go? How long would it be before she could send for her sister?
Liberina coughed and quickly looked around. "Not again. You will be punished this time."
"I will not be found this time. I still have my Gadji clothes." Jade fingered her galbé, the heavy necklace of gold coin at her throat. "And I have this to sell when I need money. I will find a place for us, and I will come back for you."
"You may have need of this as well." Sighing, Liberina removed her own galbé, pressing it into Jade's hand. "I will say I lost it."
Jade felt her eyes fill with tears at the gesture.
"Father would not believe you lost it. I will not leave you to be punished for helping me." Jade gently arranged the necklace around her sister's slender throat. She hugged Liberina tightly. "I'll come back for you, little sister."
"Nothing escapes you, Dimitri."
His lips curled around the pipe stem as he smiled. "You are right, chav Jade. Nothing escapes me, including you."
Jade stared at him. No one has told him my father sold me to someone else? Dimitri stepped closer and she flinched as he gathered her hair back from her face, his rough hand lingering against her cheek. His skin smelled like tobacco, leather, sweat, and horse.
"My father has been to see yours, carrying the silver walking stick. Milosh does not dare refuse. I will own you."
His expression soured when Jade turned her face away from his hand and tried to step back. He grabbed her chin in one huge palm. When she seized his hand and tried to break his grip, Dimitri's fingers tightened, grinding against her jawbone.
"Do not anger me. As your husband, I will have the right to beat you."
He tossed the pipe into a nearby barrel. Water hissed, and a faint plume of steam rose from the water as he stepped forward and jerked her to him. His free arm closed around her, imprisoning her. Jade struggled to keep the parcel concealed beneath her shawl from dropping to the ground. Dimitri tilted her chin upward, his dark eyes cold. He ground his mouth against hers in a wet, bruising kiss. She tasted stale wine, and tobacco. Gagging, she struggled to break free.
Jade dragged the back of her hand across her mouth, as if the action could remove his touch. Dimitri smirked at her and cast her away from him with a violent shove. When he turned to retrieve his pipe from the barrel, Jade quickly stowed the small parcel containing clothing beneath the wheel of the nearby wagon.
"Pig," Jade muttered. "I will never be yours. My father won't allow it."
Dimitri pivoted toward her. "What?" Closing the distance between them with two long strides, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.
"What do you mean?" He cursed and raised his arm when she didn't reply.
"You do not dare strike me, Dimitri." God help the woman forced to marry you. Wrenching out of his grip, she turned to flee.
Dimitri lunged and grabbed the edge of Jade's shawl, spinning her back toward him. Catching her under the arms, he hurled her toward a nearby wagon with such force she collided with the porch board. She slumped to the ground, moaning. When she tried to breathe, sharp pain pierced her midsection.
Gripping the wheel of the wagon, she pulled herself to her feet and uttered a strangled gasp of surprise when he rushed forward and lifted her into the air. The wagon doors exploded inward as he kicked them open, propelling Jade headlong into the wagon. He climbed in after her.
Heart pounding, she drew a painful breath to scream. He stepped forward with his arm raised. She inhaled and flinched. He paused, a glimmer of malice passing over his features. His gold eyetooth glinted as he leered at her.
"Culvato paid for a virgin, didn't he?"
Jade stared at him in outrage. He had known all along. He had stalked her, made sport of her, and now intended to dishonor her so she wouldn't be suitable for marriage to anyone else.
Dimitri dropped his hand to the front of his breeches and began to rub himself, his breathing harsh as he advanced on her. Jade uttered a disgust-filled cry and crawled backward, coming up hard against the wagon wall. Reaching toward the grate, she groped wildly for a weapon. She found nothing.
As Dimitri sprang toward her, Jade screamed for help. Her desperate outcry mixed with the bellow of her cousin, Roibin, the returning wagon owner. Roibin took one look at the damaged wagon doors and began shouting at Dimitri. Jade struggled to her knees, dodging Dimitri's sharp-toed boot as he kicked out to impede her flight.
She sobbed with relief as Roibin jerked her to her feet and thrust her behind him. Dimitri's face darkened in a thundercloud of rage.
"'Chavaia!" Roibin shouted as Dimitri attempted to push past him. When Dimitri did not heed Roibin's order to stop, Roibin pulled a knife from the leather sheath bound to his thigh. Dimitri froze.
Jade scrambled toward the open doors of the wagon and leapt from the porch board onto the ground, crying out in agony as the impact jolted her ribs. Snagging the parcel she had concealed under the wagon during the struggle with Dimitri, she dashed toward the tethered horses. And freedom.
Excerpted from Stolen Promise by Lisa Marie Wilkinson Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Marie Wilkinson. Excerpted by permission.
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