The fire in the fireplace of the great hall hissed, the hour well past midnight. Valentina rubbed her arms, chasing away the chill, the rings she wore sparkling in the firelight. Forced on her knees by a shadowy knight, she yanked her tangled, multilayered gown around her feet. Her once vibrant clothes were now muted, matching her unwashed body and grimy appearance.

Rage and riotous thoughts pounded in her head.

Her mother.


The caravan.

She glared at the tall man who strode in and stopped abruptly, Sir Geoffrey and several men lined behind him.

“Bury me standing.” “Prohasar man opre pirend.” Valentina repeated her mother’s words in her native Romany tongue. If he were going to kill her, she would be brave, like her mother, and protect Yolanda.

“What do you say?” the man demanded. He folded large, muscular arms over his flowing black cloak. His face stayed hidden in the shadows, but she recognized the aristocratic lines. The masculine profile, dark against the light from the fireplace, reflected back, strong and rigid. He stepped forward, his compelling silver eyes raking her face, her body.

“I speak the language of the Romany. My language.” Valentina spoke the words in perfect English. This lofty noble did not frighten her, no matter how threatening he appeared. She wiped her palms along her thighs, taken aback at the sweat despite the coldness in the hall.

“Stand so I may see you.” His low voice issued the subtle command. He held out his hand.
The tops of her bare feet scraped against the rough surface of the stone floor. When she stood, she would never kneel again. And certainly she could stand without his assistance.

“His lordship, James Saren, the Earl of Colchester, directed you to stand. He will not wait for a gypsy.” The familiar, raspy croak of Sir Roland spoke from the unwelcoming walls.

The Earl of Colchester. An earl.

Her dream came back in a rush. A rich man. A powerful man. He whispered to her when her sleep deepened, and disappeared before she could reach him. Her mouth went dry. She swallowed.


  1. Beth Trissel // May 5, 2008 at 11:34 AM  

    Great excerpt, as usual, Joan.

  2. Mary Marvella // May 5, 2008 at 3:41 PM  

    Wow, girl. Keep those words coming.

  3. Joanne // May 6, 2008 at 9:36 AM  

    Thank you, ladies. I love historical romances. :)