A Dangerous Love
A Dangerous Obsession
Torn from his Romany mother's arms as a small boy, Viscount Emilian St. Xavier has spent a lifetime ignoring the whispers of gypsy that follow him everywhere. A nobleman with wealth, power and privilege, he does not care what the gadjos think. But when the Romany come to Derbyshire with news of his mother's murder at the hands of a mob, his world implodes. And Ariella de Warrene is the perfect object for lust and revenge...
A Dangerous Passion
Ariella de Warenne's heritage assures her a place in proper society, though as a radical and independent thinker she scorns her peers' frivolous pursuits in the Ton, fashion and marriage. Until a Roma camp arrives at Rose Hill, and she finds herself drawn to their charismatic leader, Emilian. Even when he warns her away, threatening that he intends to seduce and destroy her, she cannot refuse him. For Ariella is just as determined to fight for their dangerous love...
His agitation knew no bounds. What the hell was taking the runner so long? He’d received Smith’s letter the day before but it had been brief. Smith had written that he would arrive on the morrow and he hadn’t said anything else. Damn it! Had the runner succeeded in finding his son?
Edmund St. Xavier paced back and forth across the length of his great hall. It was a large room, centuries old like the house itself, but it was sparsely furnished and in need of a great deal of repair. The damask on the single sofa was badly faded and torn, a scarred trestle table needed far more than wax and a shine, and the chairs that were covered in gold and ivory brocade had long since turned that unpleasant shade of yellow which indicated aging and a serious lack of economy. Woodland had been in Edmund’s family for well over three hundred years. Once, it had been a great estate, compromising ten thousand acres, when his ancestors had proudly born the title of viscount and had kept another splendid home in London. A thousand acres remained, and of the fifteen tenant farms scattered about, half were vacant, the families having left for the cities of Manchester and Birmingham. His stable consisted of his four carriage horses and two hacks. His staff had dwindled to two manservants and a single housemaid. His wife had died in childbirth five years ago, and last winter, a terrible flu had taken their only child. There was only an impoverished estate and an empty house and the prestigious title, which was now in jeopardy.
Edmund trembled. He had never gotten on with his younger brother, who stared at him from across the hall, appearing as smug and cocksure as always. John was certain the title would soon pass to him and his son, but Edmund was as determined that it would not. For there was another child, a bastard, and surely Smith had found him.
Edmund turned stiffly away. They’d been rivals growing up and they remained rivals now. His damned brother had made a small fortune in trade, had bought a fine estate in Kent, and continuously appeared at Woodland in his six-in-hand, his wife in jewels and satin. Every visit was the same. John would walk around the house, inspecting every crack in the wood floors, every peeling patch of paint, every musty drapery and dusty portrait, his condescension clear. And then he would offer to pay Edmund’s debts—with a sizeable interest rate. Edmund could not wait until John left—leaving behind his high-interest note, which he’d signed, having no other real choice.
His very pretty wife was pretending to sew, seated by the fire, their son left in the third floor nursery. He turned to stare at John, despising him.
He’d die before seeing John’s son, Robert, inherit Woodland. But dear God, it wasn’t going to come to that because he did have an heir, and as soon as the boy arrived, he’d adopt him.
“Are you certain Mr. Smith found the boy?” John intoned, his words dripping condescension. “I cannot imagine how a Bow Street runner could locate a particular gypsy woman, much less the particular tribe.”
He bristled. John was enjoying himself and he had made his feelings clear—he scorned Edmund’s affair with a gypsy and believed the boy would be a savage. “They winter by the Glasgow shipyards,” Edmund said. “In the spring they journey into the Borders to work in the fields. I doubt it was all that hard to find this caravan.”
John walked to his wife and put his hand on her arm, clearly as if to say, “I know this is a distressful topic for you; no lady should have to comprehend that my brother had a gypsy lover.”
His perfect, pretty wife smiled at him and then continued to sew.
He couldn’t help thinking of Raiza now, but he’d thought about her repeatedly since his son’s death—when he’d realized he’d claim their bastard after all. Ten years ago she’d appeared at Woodland with their son, her eyes ablaze with the pride and passion he still vividly remembered. He had been shocked to look at the child and see his own grey eyes reflected in that darkly complexioned face—and the boy’s hair had been a dark gold. Raiza was as dark as the night while he himself was fair. And Raiza had smiled, trying to hand him the infant, as a mother offers her child to another to hold. He had refused.
His wife Catherine was somewhere in the house, pregnant with their child, and he’d insisted the bastard was not his—while hating himself for doing so. His affair with Raiza had been brief. He loved his wife. He could not ever let her know about this bastard. He had tried to explain and he had offered Raiza what little coin he could, but she had cursed him and left, her eyes wet with unshed tears.
As if reading his mind, John said, “How can you be certain the boy is even yours, no matter what the wench claimed?”
Edmund ignored him. He’d been at a house party in the Borders, hunting with a group of bachelor friends, when the gypsies had appeared, camping not far from the local village. He’d walked past Raiza in the village and when their eyes had met, he’d been so stricken that he had reversed direction, following her as if she was the Pied Piper, through half the village. She had laughed at him, flirting. Smitten, he had eagerly pursued her. Their affair had begun that night. He’d stayed in the Borders for two weeks, spending most of that time in her bed in the tent.
He’d wanted to stay with her even longer, but he had a floundering estate to run and duty had called him home. With tears of regret in her eyes, Raiza had whispered, “Gadje gadjense,” which he hadn’t understood then and didn’t understand now. He hadn’t expected to ever see her again. But he thought she was in love with him, and he wasn’t sure that he didn’t love her, too. Not that it mattered, for it could not. They were from two completely different worlds.
A year later he had met Catherine, a woman as different from Raiza as night and day. The niece of his rector, she was proper, demure, and impossibly sweet. She would never dance wildly to gypsy music beneath a full moon, but he didn’t care. He had courted her, fallen in love with her, married her and become her dearest friend. He missed her even now.
He intended to remarry, of course. He hoped for more heirs; he could not risk the estate. But he had learned firsthand, twice, how capricious life was, how uncertain. And that was why he had decided to find his bastard son.
Edmund heard the sound of horses arriving outside in the rutted dirt drive.
His heart lurched. He rushed to the front door, aware of John following him, and as he flung it open, he saw the heavy-set runner alighting from a mount. The carriage was a single-horse curricle, and it was enclosed, the damned shades pulled down. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? “Have you found him?” Edmund cried, aware of his desperation.
“Have you found my son?”
Smith was a big bulky man who clearly did not like to shave on a daily basis. He spat tobacco at him and grinned. “Aye, me lord, but ye might not want to thank me yet.”
Edmund trembled. He had found the boy. John had come to stand besides him. He murmured, “I don’t trust the gypsy wench at all.”
Edmund retorted, his gaze glued to the carriage, “I don’t care what you think.”
Smith dismounted and strode to the carriage, pulling open the door. He reached inside and Edmund saw a lean boy in patched brown trousers and a loose, dirty shirt emerge—Smith jerked him out and to the ground. “Come meet yer father, boy.”
Horrified, Edmund saw that the boy’s wrists were tightly bound with rope. “Untie him” he began, when he saw the chain and shackle on his ankle, clearly attached to a bolt inside the coach. He was immobilized.
The boy jerked free of Smith, hatred on his pinched face. He spat at him.
Smith wiped the spittle from his cheek and glanced at Edmund. “He needs a whipping—but then—he’s a gypsy, ain’t he? Flogging’s what they understand, just like a rotten horse.”
Edmund began to shake with outrage. “Why is he bound and shackled like a felon?”
“Cause’s he treacherous, he is, an’ he’s tried to escape a dozen times since I found him in the north. An’ I don’t feel like being stabbed to death in me sleep,” Smith said. He seized the boy by the shoulder and shook him. “Yer father,” he said, gesturing at Edmund.
The boy jerked free, murderous rage in his eyes, but he remained silent. And now he stared suspiciously at Edmund.
“He speaks English—just as good as you an’ me,” Smith spat more tobacco, this time on the boy’s dirty bare feet. “Understands every word.”
“Untie him, damn it,” Edmund said, feeling helpless. He wanted to hold his son and tell him he was sorry. But this boy looked as dangerous as Smith claimed. This boy looked as if he hated Smith—and Edmund. “Son, welcome to Woodland. I am your father.”
Cool gray eyes held his. They were filled with condescension, and they belonged on an older man, a worldly man, not a young boy.
Smith said, “She gave him up without too much of a fuss.”
Edmund could not look away from his son. “Did you give her my letter?”
Smith spat, “Gypsies can’t read, but I gave her the letter.”
Edmund trembled. Had Raiza understood that his raising their son was for the best? As an Englishman, he a world of opportunity was open to him. And he was entitled to this estate, his title and all the privilege that came with it.
“But she wept like a woman dying,” Smith said, unlocking the shackle on his ankle. “I couldn’t understand their gypsy speech, an’ I didn’t have to. She wanted him to go—and he didn’t want to leave. He’ll run off,” Smith looked at Edmund in warning. “Ye’d better lock him up at night an’ keep a guard on him by day.” He seized his arm. “Boy, show respect to yer father—a great lord. If he speaks, ye answer.”
“It’s all right. This is a shock.” Edmund smiled at his son. God, he was a beautiful boy—except for his eyes and coloring, he looked exactly like Raiza. So much warmth began, flooding his chest. He should have never turned Raiza away, so many years ago, he thought. But it was too late now. And surely they could get past what he had done. Surely they could get past this terrible beginning and their differences. “Emilian,” he smiled. “Long ago, your mother brought you here and introduced us. I am Lord Edmund St Xavier.”
The boy continued to stare and his expression did not change. He reminded Edmund of a deadly, darkly golden tiger, waiting for the precise moment to leap and maim.
Taken aback, Edmund reached for the ropes on his wrists, “Give me a knife,” he told Smith.
“Ye’ll be sorry,” Smith said, handing him a huge blade.
John murmured, “The boy is as feral as I expected.”
Edmund ignored both comments, cutting the ties. “That must feel better.” But the boy’s wrists were lacerated. He was furious with the runner now.
The boy stared coldly. If his wrists hurt, he gave no sign—and Edmund knew he wouldn’t.
“Better guard your horses,” John murmured from behind them, a snicker in his tone.
Edmund tensed. He did not need his smug brother’s presence now. Getting past his son’s hostility was going to be difficult enough. He couldn’t begin to imagine how he’d turn him into an Englishman, much less become a real father to him.
The boy had become still, staring closely, his expression wary. Edmund despaired—he almost felt as if he was looking at a wild animal, but John was wrong, because gypsies weren’t beasts and thieves—he knew that first-hand. “Can you speak English? Your mother could.”
If the boy understood, he gave no sign.
“This is your life now,” Edmund tried with a smile. “Long ago, your mother brought you here. I was a fool. I was afraid of what my wife would say, do. I turned you away—and for that, I will always be sorry. But Catherine is gone, God bless her. My son Edmund, your brother, is gone. Emilian, this is your home now. I am your father. I intend to give you the life you deserve. You are an Englishman, too. And one day, Woodland will be yours.”
The boy made a harsh sound. He looked Edmund up and down with scorn, and shook his head. “No. I have no father—and this is not my home.”
His English was accented, but he could speak. “I know you need some time,” Edmund cried, thrilled they were finally speaking. “But I am your father and I loved your mother once.”
Emilian stared at him, his face twisted—as if with hatred.
“This has to be a difficult moment, meeting your father and accepting that you are my son. Emilian, you are as much an Englishman as I am.”
“No!” Emilian snarled. And he said proudly, head high, “No. I am Rom.”