A panther. A prince. A promise. Can destiny tie the knot?
Gypsy Legacy, Book 3
During a magical childhood summer, a gypsy woman gave Lady Amanda Cookeson a black panther statuette, promising that the man who came to claim it would also claim her heart. Amanda believes the Earl of Wynton is the prince she has awaited. Yet his reluctance to declare them anything more than friends leaves her wondering if she waited in vain.
If he wasn't the last of his line, Jon Kenton, Earl of Wynton, wouldn't marry at all. Since leaving his inheritance to the Crown is out of the question, however, he is compelled to search for the statuette his great-grandmother promised him. His quest leaves him empty handed--and secretly relieved. Finding the statuette would mean embracing the gypsy roots he has long denied.
Amanda is perfect countess material: lovely, admirable and--he thinks--statueless. Their passion is unquenchable...until the gypsy magic Jon thought he'd buried nearly destroys his future with Amanda.
Warning: Trying to outrun your destiny is dangerous to your beloved's health, but a little bit of the right drug goes a long way.
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August 10, 2009
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Excerpt from Gypsy Legacy by Denise Patrick
London, April 1867
The Earl of Wynton was trapped.
Surveying the luxury around him, he had to admit it did not look like any prison he'd ever imagined. Royal blue velvet floor-to-ceiling drapes framed large windows overlooking the front of Waring House, yet he could hear none of the noise of the street. A plush cream-colored rug covered the floor, matching the cream and blue silk striped wall covering. A large gilded mirror hung over the fireplace to his left, the mantel sporting a small gold and white porcelain clock which proclaimed the time as five minutes past six. Scattered throughout the room were various pieces of furniture, all upholstered in cream and blue. At the far end sat a piano, the bench with its back to the wall so the player faced the room. He wondered briefly if his sister had shaken her dislike of playing for large gatherings.
He should have recognized the possible trap in the carefully worded note he received earlier, but he hadn't. Instead he had blithely arrived for tea with his youngest sister, Felicia, Duchess of Warringham, only to find his other sister, Tina, Marchioness of Thanet, also in attendance. His jailers might be friendly, but they were still bent on his confinement.
He was slipping. Three years ago, before he left for a tour of the Continent, he would never have fallen for such a tactic. But returning to London after an extended absence, he had not questioned how his sisters knew he'd returned, nor was he suspicious of the invitation he received.
He mentally kicked himself for returning at this particular time. Perhaps that's where he'd failed. But he had become restless. He was not willing to admit to being homesick, but the wanderlust which prompted him to pick up and go three years ago had waned and he found himself missing home and family. Now, however, he wondered if he should have resisted the pull--at least for a few more months until the Season was over.
Not that he didn't love his sisters. He did. He'd felt keenly the responsibility left to him to ensure their happiness, and taken it seriously. With Felicia it meant using force, as his great-grandmother had hinted, but the results were well worth the discomfort he had felt at the time at doing so.
"Jon!" His musings were interrupted by the object of his thoughts. "You are not paying attention."
Eyeing the figure perched across from him on a cream damask upholstered sofa, he was struck by the changes in her over the past three years. Her ebony hair was still thick and lustrous, blue eyes bright under dark winged brows in a creamy complexion. Physically, she looked much the same, but the young, insecure girl of nineteen he'd left behind had been replaced by a mature, confident woman of twenty-two. Secure in her position at the pinnacle of London society, she seemed to have shed her personal doubts concerning her background. He wished he could do the same.
"No, I'm not," he told her. Leaning forward, he replaced the gold-rimmed porcelain teacup on its saucer and set them both down on the low table before him. "I did not return home only to have the two of you immediately begin matchmaking. If and when I decide to marry, it will be to the woman of my choosing."
"What about your... What did Nona give you, anyway?" Having merely been a spectator so far, Tina finally joined the conversation, and Jon shifted his attention to her for a moment.
Petite and dark-haired like Felicia, but six years older, she was the calm one. The one who always seemed under control. If she was excited about something, her large aquamarine eyes would sparkle, but never did she radiate the same kind of energy Felicia did. Sitting on a blue sofa that matched the one Felicia occupied, she took a sip of her tea as she regarded him speculatively.
"Or, more to the point, what are you supposed to be looking for?" Felicia asked.
He sat back in his chair and eyed the two of them warily.
"I don't know that I should tell you," he answered. "You'll only hound me for the rest of the Season."
"We wouldn't do that, would we?" Tina asked Felicia, and smiled serenely when Felicia shook her head emphatically, causing her dark curls to seem in danger of tumbling out of her elegant coiffure.
"Of course we wouldn't. But I'm sure we could be of some help. After all, we know most of the young women out now. I would wager we already know our future sister-in-law."
Jon could not dispute that statement, but the wide-eyed innocent look on her face set off warning bells in his head. He knew better than to trust either of them. Happily married, they only wanted the same for him, but their method of doing so would require that he fall in love with his future wife--something he had no intention of doing. He only needed to find the young woman who possessed the statuette and decide whether he would offer for her. His title and wealth ensured that whoever she was, if he offered she'd accept--or rather her parents would--and all would be well.
He was under no illusions about his value on the marriage mart. Most families would welcome him with open arms, regardless of his tainted background. He would be satisfied with that. Love, as he saw it, required letting go and opening yourself up to too much emotional instability. It made no sense whatsoever. As a man of science, logic and reason were his cornerstones. Things that didn't fit those models--like love and destiny--didn't belong in his world. He'd often observed that women who thought they were in love tended to become too dependent upon their husbands. Even his own sisters seemed to have succumbed at one time or another. He wanted someone he could hold an intelligent conversation with--not a limpet.
When his great-grandmother, a Romany shuvani, told him shortly before her death six years ago that she had given his statuette--the one she had promised would someday be his--to the woman she'd determined to be his destiny, he nearly swore in frustration. A firm believer in fate and destiny, her actions should not have surprised him. In fact, he should have expected that she would fulfill her promise in a roundabout way.
"Maybe it would be better if you let me find this person myself," he suggested now. "After all, Nona expected me to." Nona also expected him to marry the person. Something he was not inclined to do. He wanted a reasonable marriage built on mutual respect, and a wife who would not demand too much. While he expected to be faithful to his vows and expected his wife to do the same, it did not mean they had to live in each other's pockets.
"True, but maybe she knew you'd need some help," Tina reasoned. "That's why we had to be married first. So we'd be able to devote the time to helping you." He could not fault her logic, but could hear his mental teeth grinding.
It wasn't that he didn't want them to know. He'd actually considered how they could possibly help him identify the woman. The problem was that his goals were very different from what they expected them to be. If he didn't tell them, however, he'd never hear the end of the speculation and they might let something slip which would alert whoever had his figurine.
"So," Felicia repeated, "what are you looking for?"
Jon looked into her eyes, bright with curiosity, and barely refrained from shaking his head. He was convinced he'd never find the woman otherwise. After all, he couldn't picture any young lady carrying it about with her. It would never fit into a reticule. And there was no harm in looking around for what was left of the Season.
He sighed. "Very well, but if you know who has it, you have to promise not to tell me unless I can't discover it on my own."
Tina stared at him quizzically. "Then what would be the benefit of us knowing what you are looking for?"
His smile was more of a grimace. "Perhaps to let me know if I'm showing interest in the wrong person," he responded, then added hastily, "when I decide to be interested, that is."
"Very well," Felicia said at last, "but I reserve the right to tell you if I think it's best. After all, it might be better at the outset if you did your own discovering, but if complications arise you might need to know."
The clamor in Jon's head got louder with her last pronouncement. "Such as?"
"Suppose she's already engaged or, heaven forbid, married. Maybe she's put whatever it is away somewhere, lost it, or doesn't remember it."
Jon admitted she had a point. What would he do if the woman hadn't waited? He'd consider himself lucky to have escaped. But he still wanted the figurine. He could not explain to himself why possessing it was so important, just that it was. So, how was he to get it without marrying the woman in question? Maybe if he found it, he could decide whether it was truly important enough for him to sacrifice his freedom. For that, however, he needed his sisters' help. He looked from one to the other. There was no way out. He could see his sisters were already well on their way to planning his downfall as he began describing the object Nona told him would someday belong to him.
"It's a statuette or figurine. A little larger than the teapot. Made of black onyx. It's a figure of a panther with emeralds for eyes." He nearly grimaced at the thought of Nona telling some impressionable young woman the panther represented himself.
Felicia briefly stilled at the description, but the pause was so slight, he thought he imagined it.
"Interesting," Tina commented. "And did Nona say how you were to find this person if you weren't able to see her with the statuette?"
"No, not really. As usual, she spoke in riddles." He refused to admit Nona had told him to follow his heart.
"Did she give you a description?" Felicia asked in a strange voice.
"A description?" he asked. "Such as...?"
"Remember what she told me?" Felicia reminded him. "Sun-ripened wheat and highland heather."
He chuckled with genuine glee at the memory. "The only time in your life you fainted that I can recall."
Felicia turned to her sister, who watched the two in perplexed silence. "Nona told me when I found the owner of the ring she gave me, I would be rewarded with sun-ripened wheat and highland heather. Unfortunately, I didn't know highland heather was purple--nearly the same color as Brand's eyes."
"And sun-ripened wheat is the perfect description for his hair," Tina finished in understanding.
"Well?" Felicia asked, turning back to her brother.
"It's possible it was buried in the conversation somewhere. I'll let you know if I think of anything that would fit. But as you can tell, it's highly unlikely I will find the statuette on my own, although Nona promised it would be mine one day."
"Unless it's on display in the sitting room during an at home or calling hours," Tina said. "Hmmm, I haven't seen anything like it." She looked over at her sister. "Have you?"
Felicia was silent for a long time. She poured herself another cup of tea. Jon noticed her hand shook slightly. But when she took another tart from the tray, nearly dropping it, he began to worry. She was staring off across the room as if deep in thought, and it occurred to him she was stalling.
"Felicia?" Tina finally said. "Where have you gone?"
She washed down the last of the tart with her tea and turned solemn eyes on them. "Yes," she answered. "I know who has it."
He quelled a groan. Should he ask her who? She was watching him sadly, but with an almost unholy gleam in her eye which did not give him any degree of comfort. It was almost as if she was pitying him, but was amused all the same. Maybe he didn't want to know after all. But perhaps he could ask a few questions to help him narrow his search.
"At Miss Ridley's Academy."
"So it's one of your school chums?"
She merely nodded.
"Then she shouldn't be too hard to find, unless... She's not already married is she?" The thought made him hopeful, but at the same time worried. Suppose he had waited too long to come back from his travels? If she was married already, how was he to get his panther?
"Thankfully, no," Felicia answered. "But like most of the young ladies you've met since I made my come-out, you've given her the cold shoulder. So now you are not high on her list of people to be cordial to."
Jon mulled over this statement for a moment. This might, indeed, be harder than he thought. If the young woman wouldn't even speak to him, then what? It would be fine if he didn't plan on wedding her, but he still wanted his statuette. Perhaps he needed to know who it was after all.
"Then perhaps you'd better tell me."
Felicia shook her head slowly. "I'm sorry, Jon, but I don't think I should. I think you'd better figure this one out for yourself." He started to say something, but she continued. "I also won't say anything to the young woman in question. I think it's best if I just stay out of it."
Jon watched her with a measure of unease. Her sudden sobriety over the subject was both unsettling and a bit disheartening. He fully expected her to tease him unmercifully over this, but she seemed to be worried. And that, conversely, worried him. It also made him a little desperate.
"How about if you at least provide me with a list of young ladies you went to school with, including this person on it, and I will work my way through them?"
Felicia considered this for a moment, then nodded. "I see no harm in that. I'll have it for you by tonight. Will you be at the Marsdens'?"
"I can arrange to be."
He rose to his feet. "Then I will take my leave. I have mountains of correspondence to catch up on. Perhaps one day we will actually catch up on each other's news?" He sensed that right now was not the time. His revelation bothered Felicia, which, in turn, troubled him enough that he needed to escape.
Felicia stood and approached him. "I'm sorry." Then she hugged him.
"It's good to have you back," Tina said, also giving him a hug before he left.
Once he was gone, however, she turned to her sister.
"All right, out with it," she demanded. "What's wrong?"
"Wrong?" Felicia asked, one eyebrow arched innocently.
"Give over, Felicia. You really look troubled about this. Is it that bad?"
Felicia was silent for a moment, then she smiled sadly. "It would be funny, if it wasn't so ironic. The lady in question is seriously considering another offer right now, but I know she hasn't definitely said yes yet."
"Why didn't you tell Jon that much, at least?"
"Because then he'd be able to figure out who it is almost immediately once I give him the list I promised. And quite frankly, I want him to worry over this a bit. You know how his mind works. I'd wager you next quarter's allowance he's thinking he can find this woman, make an offer--how many marriage-mart mamas do you think wouldn't make their daughter accept?--marry her out of hand, and never become emotionally involved." She paused for a moment to give her words a chance to sink in. "I don't think Nona wanted a loveless marriage for him any more than she did for us, but that's exactly what he would get if he didn't have to work for it. It may even be what he thinks he wants, but I don't want that for either of them."
"And the young woman?"
"Well, she's known him for a long time. And she must know what the statuette represents because she chased him all through her first Season and never seemed to understand why he wasn't interested. And now that I know what he's looking for, I even know when Nona gave it to her. But there have been times when he was just short of rude to her. I can't imagine what happened at my wedding, but they were distinctly ill at ease in each other's company." Felicia shifted in her seat, staring off across the room for a moment, then continued. "I even tried to warn her off. I didn't know what he was looking for, you see. I've seen that statuette so many times, but never once did I ask her where she got it--or even wonder why she had it."
Tina was silent for a long time, obviously waiting for Felicia to continue.
"Are you going to tell me who she is?" she finally demanded. "I don't want you to have all the fun watching the two of them."
Felicia's smile was suddenly mischievous as she answered, "It serves him right. She'll make him work for it--her parents are probably the only ones I know who will let her say no if she wants to. He won't be able to just offer for her and expect her parents will make her accept."
Silence fell again.
"Well?" Tina's voice was pure impatience.
Felicia relaxed against the back of the sofa and laughed. "It's..."