He was Dominic Edgemont, Lord Nightwyck, heir to the Marquis of Gravenwold. But he was also a dark-eyed, half-gypsy bastard....
When tall, handsome Dominic sees one of his Romany band whipping a beautiful, flame-haired captive, he never dreams she is a pampered heiress stolen fro the English court. To have her, he will pay a king's ransom and make himself her lord.
Lovely Catrina forbids Dominic her bed, but her fiery temper is no match for his cool determination to take her as his lover. Still, in this novel from Kat Martin, she will not be passion's slave forever. She and her Gypsy Lord will meet again-in a glittering London setting, far from the rustic tent they shared. Will her desire for revenge overwhelm her natural urge to love?
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By Kat Martin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1992 Kat Martin
All rights reserved.
September 18, 1805
"They say he's a Gypsy."
"Bah! All those rumors about his tainted blood? Half of London's heard the gossip — only makes him more intriguing."
Lady Dartmoor laughed, covering her mouth with a delicate white-gloved hand. "I suppose you're right. The scandalmongers always adore such tales and yet...." She appraised the dashing figure in immaculate black frock coat and snug gray breeches standing across the marble-floored ballroom. Smooth dark skin and bold black brows stood in contrast to the white of his stock and cravat.
She eyed him wistfully, smoothing an unseen wrinkle from the front of her green silk gown. "God's truth, I think Dominic Edgemont is one of the most dangerously attractive men in all of London."
The stately woman standing next to her, Lady Wexford, seemed to agree. She said something in a whisper, then both of them laughed. Their next words were lost in the music and gaiety of the elegantly garbed ladies and gentlemen who surrounded them, but the rosy hue of the younger woman's cheeks made the meaning of their words more than clear.
Lady Catherine Barrington, Countess of Arondale, watched their smiling departure, a little guilty for having overheard but curious nonetheless.
"I wonder, Amelia, who was it those women were talking about?" She surveyed the room once more, but couldn't decide which of the well-dressed men he was. "They seem to be quite taken with the gentleman under discussion."
Wearing a high-waisted white beaded gown that set off her pale complexion and unusual golden-red hair, Catherine swung her attention to Amelia Codrington Barrington, Baroness Northridge, her cousin Edmund's wife and Catherine's closest friend.
"They're such busybodies," Amelia said with irritation. "I don't know why they can't mind their own business."
"Tell me," Catherine persisted. "The way they keep tittering, it would seem he is all the vogue."
A servant walked past just then, a silver tray balanced on his shoulder, and the crystal beads on the chandelier above their heads jingled lightly. Across the marble floor, black-clad musicians played a lively roundelay, and through the doorway in the distance, several gentlemen sat playing cards at a green baize gaming table, smoke from their cigars curling thickly around their heads.
"They were speaking of Dominic Edgemont," Amelia told her. "Lord Nightwyck, heir to the Marquess of Gravenwold." Five years older than Catherine, Amelia smiled knowingly. "He's the man standing at the end of the ballroom beside that big gilt mirror."
Catherine's eyes searched the lavish salon, looking past silk-gowned women aglitter with flashing jewels and men in expensive frock coats and breeches. Ornate candelabra flickered against gold brocade walls while tables spread with silver and linen and laden with foodstuffs scented the air with a savory aroma. Trays of crystal champagne goblets sparkled like prisms to the left of the group she spotted near the mirror.
"Which one is he? There are at least a half-dozen people standing there."
"Nightwyck's the tall one. The man with the wavy black hair. He's really quite something, isn't he? Half the women in London have already fallen prey to his charms and the other half would if they weren't more than a trifle afraid of him."
Catherine located him instantly, since he towered over the others, but the man her cousin spoke of faced away from her. She could see only the back of his head, his hair a glistening blue-black that gleamed in the light of the candles, and the broad width of his shoulders, outlined perfectly by the cut of his immaculate black frock coat. High-ranking ladies and gentlemen of the ton stood around him, the women looking enraptured, the men more envious than amused.
"Do you know him?" Catherine asked, still unable to see him, but noting the skill with which Lady Wexford had maneuvered to a place at his elbow. Every few moments, she fluttered her hand- painted fan.
Amelia shrugged. "We've met on occasion. Nightwyck prefers the country, though he maintains his social obligations whenever he feels it necessary for propriety."
Elegant and statuesque, with short blond hair that framed a fine- boned face, Amelia Barrington had the kind of beauty Catherine envied. Six years ago, her cousin Edmund had fallen in love with Amelia practically on sight. They had a four-year-old son named Eddie whom Catherine adored.
"Is the gossip about him the truth?" she asked, watching the seductive glances cast his way by a dark-haired woman standing across from him.
"Of course not. But no one really knows much about him, and Nightwyck prefers to keep it that way. He's quite a catch, though. Intelligent, handsome, wealthy. At one time, your father hoped for a match between the two of you."
Catherine's head came up. "Surely Father didn't approach him."
"Only by subtle suggestion through a very close friend. Nightwyck wouldn't hear of it, of course. He says he's not interested in marriage to anyone. Now or ever."
"But he's bound to marry one day. If he's the marquess's heir, he'll have to." Until recently, Catherine's quiet life in the Devon countryside had kept her too busy for the London social whirl and quite well sheltered from the gossips. Though at nearly nineteen, she was a little bit older than she should have been, tonight was her coming-out ball, her first real introduction into the fashionable world of the ton.
"It's a long story," Amelia told her. "Since the two of you would hardly suit, it's really of no concern."
Catherine opened her mouth to pursue the subject, but Jeremy St. Giles approached to claim the dance she had promised. With a smile at the handsome young man she had only met that evening, Catherine accepted his arm.
"I was afraid you might have forgotten." Warm brown eyes moved over her face.
"I rarely forget a promise," she said simply.
Jeremy seemed pleased at that, smiling as he led her onto the dance floor. The heavily beaded train of her white silk gown, attached at her wrist, came up when she rested her hand on his shoulder. A gift from her uncle, the Duke of Wentworth, the gown fell in a straight line past her hips to the floor, the sleeves puffed softly, and the square neckline revealed the rounded tops of her high, full breasts.
"You look enchanting, Lady Arondale," Jeremy said, holding her as if she might break. "An absolute vision."
Catherine made an appropriate response to the flattery, though that was hardly the word she would choose to describe herself. She was not a fragile beauty like Amelia. Not slender and delicate, but ripe-figured, with a tiny waist and amply rounded curves.
Her skin was smooth and clear, except for a smattering of freckles across her nose, but her eyes were a little too large and a little too green, and her lips were a little too full. Even the simple braided coronet of her hair did nothing to disguise its thickness and striking golden-red color.
Enjoying the rhythm of the dance, Catherine smiled politely as she whirled about the dance floor, catching an occasional glimpse of the two of them in the mirrors that lined the walls. But her thoughts kept drifting to the intriguing Lord Nightwyck. Again and again, she found herself searching for him, curious to see his face, but to her chagrin, she caught only a glimpse of his tall retreating figure as he disappeared out on the terrace.
* * *
"What is it, Dominic?" Rayne Garrick, Fourth Viscount Stoneleigh glanced from the tall dark man beside him to the wax-sealed envelope the slender sandy-haired footman had just brought in.
"A missive from Father." Dominic tore it open, slid out the letter, and scanned the finely scrawled words. "It says he's taken a turn for the worse, and I'm to attend him forthwith."
"Maybe this time it's true."
"And maybe horses can fly." Dominic's black brows drew together. "We both know it's just another of his attempts to control me. The man is nothing if not determined, I'll give him that."
"You're terribly hard on him, Dom. The man is old and sickly. Maybe he's trying to make up for all the years he ignored you."
Dominic worked a muscle in his jaw. His mouth, usually full and sensuous, narrowed to a thin, grim line. "And maybe he's twenty-eight years too late." Crumpling the note into a small ivory wad, he tossed it to the footman and started to walk away.
"Is there a reply, Your Lordship?" the boy called after him.
"I'll give him my reply in person." His expression hard, long brown fingers balled into fists, Dominic strode off in search of the cloakroom.
Rayne watched him go, noting several of the women who stopped him along the way. He grinned as he watched Dominic's skill in dealing with each, the practiced smiles, the words of flattery that could land him in just about any lady's boudoir he set his mind to.
There was something about him women found fascinating. A dark, elusive quality they couldn't quite grasp. Dominic tired of them easily, leaving them to pine away, replaced by another for an equally short period of time. The fact that none could hold him only seemed to entice them more.
Rayne watched his friend quit the room, just missing an encounter with the reigning beauty of the evening, Lady Arondale. If her innocence hadn't been so obvious — and her uncle so powerful — it might have been an interesting contest with Nightwyck for the lady's attentions. As it was, Dominic would probably be away for the balance of the season, and the lovely young woman's all too obvious charms posed too much of a threat to Rayne's bachelorhood.
He watched her conversing with her cousin Edmund and his pretty wife, Amelia. Rayne had never liked the slender, slightly effeminate, too-foppish man, though the woman could be quite charming. He wondered if the baron resented his young cousin's recent inheritance, the earldom of Arondale, which would have been his had her father not petitioned the crown to make Catherine his legal heir. Whatever Northridge felt, he hid it well, for it was obvious the girl was quite fond of him.
Rayne watched her a moment more, wondered at her untried passions, and felt his body stir. With a soft sigh of regret that neither he nor his friend would be the one to sample her charms, he turned away from the innocent temptation she posed and melted into the crowd.
* * *
"I believe Catherine's come-out has proved quite successful," Amelia said.
Edmund Barrington, Baron Northridge, watched his young cousin being led once more onto the dance floor. Far different from his wife's fragile, patrician beauty, Catherine's small frame exuded a lush sensuality few men could resist. All evening they'd been drawn to her like bees to a vibrant red blossom.
"She's caught the eye of three earls, a baron, and a duke," Edmund said. "Old Arondale would have been pleased. Too bad he couldn't have lived to arrange a match." Since the two had been raised together as children, Edmund had always been fond of Catherine, protective as a brother might be of a younger sister.
She was a sweet young thing, though always a bit too spirited. And she worried overly much for the people in her service. It was silly, really, such a sense of responsibility in one so young.
Edmund watched her now, her silvery laughter turning the heads of several young blades who stood nearby. As she passed by him, she smiled as if to say thank you for all he had done. Always, she had been close to him.
"She seems to like young St. Giles," Amelia said. "The way he keeps looking at her, he's bound to make an offer. A shame he's only the second son and not the heir."
Edmund nodded. "We must be careful. See only to Catherine's best interests." But then hadn't they always?
When her father, Christian Barrington, Earl of Arondale, had died, Catherine had begged Edmund and his family to come to Devon, to stay with her at the castle. They had gone to her, of course, since Catherine held the purse strings, and her uncle, the duke, had been pleased. Immersed in affairs of his own, Gilford Lavenham, Duke of Wentworth, had encouraged the relationship. With his sister, Catherine's mother, long dead, the duke believed Amelia would be a good influence, that a young girl needed an older woman's guidance.
The arrangement had suited everyone except Edmund, who loathed the country and missed the excitement of the city. Several months later, Edmund had finally prevailed in moving them into Catherine's London town house.
Her uncle the duke was ecstatic.
"It's time you found a husband," Wentworth said. "You've the Arondale name and estates to think of. When your father made you his heir, he expected you to marry and bear him a grandson."
Though Catherine in her innocence had blushed at the old duke's words, she agreed. "I could use your counsel in this," she said to him, sure her uncle would allow her great latitude in choosing a proper mate.
"Of course, my dear."
"Amelia and I will do our best to help you select wisely," Edmund had put in.
That was when he knew the end of his dreams loomed close at hand.
And that was the moment he determined to do something to stop it.
* * *
Catherine finished her first London season and rumor had it she was "all the vogue." Strangely enough, as the days wore on and she attended one soiree after another, endless costume balls, house parties, and nights at the theatre, she began to weary of all the excitement and yearn to go back to her simpler life at home.
By then she'd had several offers of marriage, men from the finest families in England, and there were a dozen other likely prospects. Still, none of them really stood out as the man she wished to marry. Instead, she begged her uncle to let her return to Arondale with Edmund and Amelia for the holidays, and Uncle Gil agreed — as long as she came back to London with the first likely break in the cold winter weather.
Now, as she crossed the floor of her bedchamber in her family's London town house, snuffed the light of the whale-oil lamp beside her big four-poster bed, and climbed wearily beneath the covers, she sighed to think of the days ahead.
Edmund, of course, was delighted to be back in the social whirl, but Catherine had found this evening's soiree just another round of endless flattery and meaningless conversation. And choosing a husband seemed more a matter of eliminating unsuitable prospects than finding a man with whom she could happily spend the rest of her life.
What about falling in love? she thought, staring bleakly up at the sculpted ceiling above her head. It was hard to believe she had actually imagined that could happen. Just because her father and mother had been in love, didn't mean it would happen to her. She had known that, accepted it as a possibility when she had accepted the responsibility of the Arondale title and fortunes, and yet ...
Catherine sighed into the darkness. She needed a husband to produce an heir, and though Edmund and Amelia had been patient — even encouraged her to take plenty of time and make the right choice — sooner or later, she would have to accept the inevitable. Beyond that, the faster she made her decision, the sooner she could go home.
Lying beneath the satin counterpane, Catherine pulled the blankets up to her chin against the chill that had crept into the chamber. The fire in the hearth had burned low and her white cotton nightrail wasn't heavy enough to be much protection. Distantly, she knew she should ring for a servant to bring an extra blanket, but her mind was on her problems and their impending solution.
As the clock ticked into the silence, weariness slipped over her and Catherine's eyes closed. Once her breathing had slowed and her worries began to dim, the darkness and quiet in the room dragged her into a heavy slumber. Even when she heard a faint stirring, the creak of the inlaid parquet floor, she couldn't seem to force her eyes open.
Not until she felt rough, blunt fingers clamp over her mouth and the biting grip of a man's huge hand on her shoulder, jerking her up from the deep feather mattress.
God in heaven, what is happening! "Edmund!" Catherine cried out, but the man's callused palm muffled the sound. "Help me!" Fear sent her heart into a madly beating staccato. Catherine struggled wildly, thrashing her arms and legs, her green eyes wide and frightened.
"Quiet!" the man hissed, shaking her roughly in warning.
Whoever it was, he was big and strong, and even as she fought to twist free, her jaw exploded in pain. Catherine whimpered softly as the room began to spin; then the world around her faded, and darkness engulfed her.
Slumping into the arms of her attacker, her head falling limply against his shoulder, Catherine struggled no more.CHAPTER 2
Outside Sisteron, France
April 20, 1806
Catherine pulled the rough woolen shawl more tightly around her against the biting chill of the wind. Beneath the thin fabric, her shoulders were bare above the low-cut neckline of her simple white peasant blouse. Strands of her thick golden-red hair whipped against her cheek as the wagon jolted into a pothole and she bounced against the stout, barrel-chested man who sat on the hard wooden seat beside her.
"Soon the weather will change," Vaclav promised. "In a few days it will begin to warm."
Excerpted from Gypsy Lord by Kat Martin. Copyright © 1992 Kat Martin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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