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Authors: Patricia McAllister

Tags: #Romance/Historical

Gypsy Jewel

Gypsy Jewel

 

by

 

Patricia McAllister

 

Copyright © 2012 Patricia McAllister
Kindle Edition
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Epilogue

About the Author

 

Prologue

 

The Caucasus Mountains, April 1837

 

T
HE GYPSY’S BARE FEET
were blue and icy as she carefully threaded through the forest. Like most Romany, Tzigane disdained shoes, preferring to feel the bare mother earth on her soles. And the
phuri dai
was too absorbed in her pursuit right now to care that she risked frostbite on this bitter day.

Though it was early spring, the narrow passes that led from the fertile Russian steppes up into the high mountain meadows were still dusted with snow. As the gypsy band drove through the upper pass of majestic
El Bruz
, the snow-capped peak that overlooked the Romany summer camp on the shores of the Black Sea, a thin, keening cry reached Tzigane from where she perched in the seat of her gaily-colored wagon.

The fortune-teller’s alert eyes and ears at once sought the source. None of the others heard the peculiar wail that sounded like a small animal in distress. Since she was the last wagon in the caravan, efforts to stop the others proved futile.

Tzigane drew her little mules to a stop, and went in search of the injured animal. She had no idea what she would do with the creature when she found it; perhaps it would be enough to put it out of its misery. So she brought along an ornate, ivory-handled stiletto, now tucked securely in the symbolic sash at her waist.

As always, Tzigane wore the pomona skirt of bright red to signify her state of mourning. She wore it faithfully on each anniversary of her beloved husband’s death, not caring that some muttered she was mad.

As her Bal had once been
Rom Baro
, king of the gypsies, Tzigane was now
phuri dai
, wise-woman of the Lowara band. She was the matriarch for over twenty years, so nobody questioned her fancies — not those in the band, and certainly none of the
gaje
, or outsiders, who came covertly at times to partake of her gift of foresight.

The whimpering was closer now, and Tzigane continued cautiously toward the source. Chapped hands shaking as she drew the knife, she peered ahead into the mysterious shadows cast by the towering trees.

The virgin snow was awash with scattered footprints that indicated the hasty departure of someone just moments before. Tzigane strained for a glimpse of a fleeing figure in the dusk, but she saw nobody. Then she caught her breath sharply in disbelief.

There, left beneath a gnarled, ancient pine, a naked newborn baby howled in the snow. Jolted out of her shock by the realization that the child was freezing, Tzigane hurried over and snatched it up against her breast.

The child’s cries were muffled as it instinctively, greedily rooted for food. It felt its cold, hostile world give way to comforting warmth, and its screams gradually subsided to gasping sobs. Tzigane smoothed the fine, pale down on the infant’s head and crooned softly to the squirming bit of flesh.

Who would abandon such a perfect child to die? The baby wailed again, blinking back great tears, and Tzigane saw its eyes were a beautiful sea-green color. Exposure would have claimed its life within minutes had she not appeared.

Noting the sex of the child as she hastily pulled off her heavy winter shawl, Tzigane wrapped it snugly around the babe. The infant girl had been left totally naked, but a small, green velvet pouch dangled from a silken cord around her neck. With an uneasy gaze at the darkening woods around her, Tzigane decided she could wait to pursue the mystery after she returned to the safety of the gypsy camp.

Whoever had left the child had surrendered all rights to her in any case — for, at the will of the gods, Tzigane had just become a mother. And only the silent trees knew the truth, of how and why the baby had come to be there — except for the evil one who had abandoned the child to die.

 

Chapter One

 

Constantinople, Summer 1850

 

“H
ALT! THIEF!”

The hoarse, angry cry echoed in her ears, but the young girl dared not stop now. With a wild jangle of jewelry, she dashed down the alley, her kerchief flying off to sail away in the brisk wind. A wealth of blonde hair unfurled behind her, momentarily confusing the shop owner who was shouting for help.

“Stop that gypsy. She stole my fruit!”

Glancing down to see an apple clutched in her sweaty hand, April almost tripped in a tangle of colorful cotton skirts. She had just passed a fruit stall when the apples the hawker had been stacking too high came down in a bouncing heap all over the street.

Without thinking, April had reached down to help him pick up his spilled goods. But the moment her hand closed around the nearest apple, he had started shrieking at her in rapid-fire Turkish. Who would believe her now? To anyone who looked, she appeared to be a gypsy girl with “stolen” goods in hand.

Gasping for breath, April burst from the alley, wildly looking in every direction for any sign of the gypsy caravan.

She had only wandered a few streets away from the others to gawk at the colorful crowds in Constantinople. Who would have guessed that a thirteen-year-old girl could get herself into such trouble in a matter of less than five minutes?

Behind her, April heard the fruit seller still babbling urgently, no doubt directing the city soldiers her way. If they caught her, she knew her goose was cooked, as the
gaje
would say. Soldiers had a notoriously dim view of gypsies in the best of circumstances, and given any excuse to persecute them, they eagerly seized the chance.

Shudders coursed through April at the thought, and with a Romany oath she dashed off in the direction in which she hoped to find Tzigane. She had left her mother telling fortunes across from a mosque near the Golden Horn. Ironically, that was where the
phuri dai
usually found her business was the briskest, near churches or holy sites. But now all of Constantinople was a maze of minarets and golden domes in her panic, and she could hardly choose which way to flee.

Poised in mid-flight, April threw the unfortunate apple back over one shoulder, hoping that might appease anyone who took up the chase after her. She jumped guiltily when someone stepped out from the shadows of an overhanging shop awning and spoke softly in her ear.

“I think you dropped something,
mademoiselle
.” The man’s voice was deep and smooth, his Turkish as flawless as her own. Whirling around in a flurry of skirts, April’s green eyes widened in surprise.

She looked up into a strikingly handsome male face framed by waves of night-dark hair. Eyes the color of the Caspian Sea twinkled at her from beneath dark brows arched in apparent amusement. Obviously a gentleman, the man’s expensively tailored suit fit his tall, broad frame like a second skin. He had walked out from the silk shop and caught the flying apple just as she had hurled the evidence away.

Immediately, April knew enough to be wary. Why should a stranger bother to address a gypsy girl so politely? Was he possibly a
shan-glo
, a policeman? April doubted it, quickly sizing up his fine clothes and lack of weapons, but for a long moment her heart was in her throat.

The man extended the bruised apple in one well-manicured hand to her. He was a young man, though April was in too much of a panic to note much more than that. She could hardly tear her own thoughts away from the alley she had left a moment ago, where the stall keeper’s curses still echoed off the stone walls.

Shaking her head to refuse the apple, April started to back away. But something in the stranger’s approach froze her for a moment, and like a bird fascinated by a snake, she waited to see what he would do.

“Are you afraid of me?” Damien Cross asked the obvious, wondering why the gypsy child was poised like a tawny tiger prepared to spring. By her defensive stance and glittering green eyes, she clearly expected him to injure her in some way. But nothing could be further from the Earl of Devonshire’s mind.

Damien knew the girl was a gypsy, both by her clothing, a bright blue layered skirt and loose white cotton blouse, and the fact that she was brown-skinned and barefoot. She wore a dozen bangles around each slender wrist — real gold, if Damien was any judge — and large hoop earrings that just touched her shoulders. But instead of being dark, her hair was the color of summer wheat, pale gilt and gold swirling in a lustrous sheen all the way to her small waist. She was an unusually beautiful child.

Before April could reply, the apple seller burst from the alleyway and came storming toward them. Damien adroitly palmed the apple into his silk-lined pocket and gained a look of surprised admiration from the girl for his sleight-of-hand.

“Gypsy filth!” The Turk, short and fat and huffing with indignation, hawked and spat to one side as he rushed toward April with one finger wagging. “You give me back my fruit, or I’ll have you sent to prison, eh? You understand?”

April raised her chin and held her ground. The earl could only watch in admiration, for the girl had definite poise and an inner strength that was obvious to the Turk. For a moment Damien wondered if she was truly a gypsy. There was something aristocratic about the way she stared the other man down.

“What do you mean? What fruit?” Her innocent reply, delivered in perfect Turkish, caused the fruit seller to hesitate and fumble for further ammunition. He sputtered, impotently waving his chubby arms, and then Damien coolly intervened.

“If you’re suggesting this girl has stolen goods, sir, I must admit I’m surprised. As you can see, she is clearly empty-handed, and only stopped here because I asked her to give me directions to the Hagia Sophia …”

Was April mistaken, or did the handsome stranger slip her a sidelong wink? It seemed incredible to her that a
gajo
would ever stoop to interfere in street matters, especially when a gypsy’s life was at stake.

Yet she couldn’t help but feel grateful when the merchant finally shook his head, more puzzled than angry, threw up his hands in a dramatic display of surrender, and stalked back to his display.

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