As Valentina turned toward the earl, Sir Roland struck her. She caught herself before her face hit the floor. She slid her tongue along the inside of her mouth, the metallic tinge of blood wetting her lips. Swabbing shaking fingers against her cheek, she gulped a dry sob.

“Enough!” A dangerous flash of the earl’s eyes stopped Sir Roland’s uplifted arm.
Valentina wavered, stood with dignity, and bolstered her spine. She grimaced at the shooting cramp in her legs, turned numb from sitting so long on the floor, hoping they would not buckle beneath her and betray her weakness.

She defied the earl’s outstretched hand, noncompliant. What could he possibly do? She was of no use to him if she were dead. She shivered, thinking the unthinkable. Black fear swept through her, repellent and vivid. In front of his men, surely the earl could not be thinking of rape.

Annoyance flickered across his face. “The elusive gypsy girl. My men have searched for months, because I know firsthand you are the finest fortuneteller in all of England. Are you not?”
She folded her arms and did not answer him.

“Are you not?”

Feeling better, braver, she glared into his grey eyes, and spat.
It caught him off-guard, the spittle spraying his face. He flinched, swearing, his fingers tensing.
Out of the dimness, two watchmen lunged, silent and invisible sentinels. They yanked her backward, their fingers digging into her arms. She recoiled and doubled her fists.

“Disgusting gypsy. I wager ye shall pay for your disrespect.” Sir Roland spoke again, her despicable riding companion. He wheezed, licked his lips, and blocked her view of the earl. She wrenched her arms to free herself from the watchmen’s grips.

“Release her,” the earl thundered. The men dropped their hold and stepped back into the darkness. “The next man who touches her will face me alone.”

“My lord, she is odious and repulsive.”

Valentina boldly met his glare.


  1. Nightingale // May 9, 2008 at 2:18 PM  

    And then, and then? She wriggles her fingers coaxing. What happens next?

  2. Beth Trissel // May 10, 2008 at 10:48 PM  

    Joan, you get hits on Fatal Fortune, not sure which part, nearly every day.