Chapter One

June 1851

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Hampshire, England

Kev Merripen wasn’t surprised by the signs of bad luck as his wedding day approached. But he was determined to have Win as his wife, no matter what obstacles had to be overcome.

“Nothing is going to stop this wedding,” he told her as he came into her bedroom one evening before the ceremony. “I’m going to marry you if lightning strikes the church. I’m going to marry you if the entire village of Stony Cross is flooded, or the pastor is drunk, or animals stampede through the ceremony.”

Smiling quizzically, Win turned the lamp low and came to him in her dressing gown. “I gather you’re expecting something to go wrong?”

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“Of course. It’s a Hathaway wedding.”

Despite his grumbling, Kev felt his pulse escalate to a fast, heavy clamor as Win approached. She looked angelic, her slender body wrapped in white lace and ruffled silk, her light blonde hair cascading in loose shimmering waves. He adored her with an intensity that approached worship . . . and yet she was all woman to him. His woman.

Something about her had always cut past his defenses and reached his very soul.

Reaching around his neck, Win let her fingers play gently in the cropped hair at his nape. Her body pressed all along his, the feminine curves molding sweetly against him. “What’s the matter?” she whispered.

He let his lips play in the glinting wisps of hair at her temple. “Beatrix found a wounded owl this morning and brought it to the house.”

“Poor thing. If anyone could make it well, it would be Beatrix.”

“You’re missing the point,” Kev said, smiling reluctantly. “Owls are bad luck.”

“I don’t believe in bad luck.” Standing on her toes, Win brushed the tip of her nose playfully against his.

Kev felt compelled to make his case. “I also caught a glimpse of your wedding dress while Amelia was sewing something on it in the parlor.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t in the dress.”

“Still bad luck,” he insisted. “And then the dairymaid told me some gadje poem about the best day to marry. Saturday isn’t one of them.” Gadje was the term Gypsies used to refer to outsiders.

“Yes, I know the poem. Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday’s the best of all. Thursday brings crosses, and Friday losses, but Saturday no luck at all.”

Kev gave her a quick frown. “You knew that poem, and you still chose a Saturday for the wedding?”

“The almanac said it would be a fine day,” Win protested. “Besides, I didn’t think you’d put any stock in a gadje superstition.”

“I do when it’s about our wedding!”

She had the nerve to grin. “You’re far too superstitious.” She went to stand by the bed. Sending him a provocative glance, she untied the sash of her dressing gown and began on the row of tiny buttons along the front. “I’m yours already, Kev. It doesn’t matter what goes wrong at the wedding . . . the ceremony is a mere formality. We’ve made our vows and consummated them . . . or did I only imagine that you stole me right out of this bed not long ago?”

The reminder caught Kev’s attention, as she had intended.

“You didn’t protest,” he pointed out, watching as she unfastened one tiny button, and another. He went instantly hard as he caught a glimpse of her breast.

“Of course I didn’t. I’d been trying to get you to ravish me for years.”

“I always wanted you.” His voice was thick and low.

“I knew. But you were so stubborn.” Little by little the front of the dressing gown fell open, revealing, soft, pale skin.

As Win saw his reaction to the display, a glint of satisfaction appeared in her eyes before she could conceal it.

Kev was well aware that Win managed him adeptly in her own soft, sweet way.

Being a Romany male, he probably should have resented that. But he was too enchanted by her shy seduction to object. He moved toward her, reaching out to ease the lace and silk from her shoulders. “In my heart you’re already my wife,” he said.

“But I’ll have no peace until you’re legally mine. No man has ever been so eager for his wedding day.” His lashes half-lowered as he felt her tender mouth on the side of his neck.

“I’m eager for the wedding night,” Win told him breathlessly.

A sound of amusement rustled in his chest. “Why? Do you think I have something out of the ordinary planned for you?” A grin tugged at his lips as he felt her nod against his throat. “Perhaps I do,” he murmured. “There are things I haven’t shown you yet.”

Win drew back to give a look of wide-eyed surprise. He held her gaze, smiling slightly as he saw the color rise in her cheeks.

“We haven’t done everything?” she asked.

Kev shook his head.

Her flush deepened, and she gave a disconcerted laugh. “Well, now I’m cross with you. I’ve been feeling very worldly and experienced, and now you tell me that I’m still a novice?”

His smile lingered. “I’ll teach you more when you’re ready.”

The moment was delicious. The silence between them was warm and provocative, their breaths mingling, her naked body clasped carefully against his clothed one.

“Teach me now,” she whispered.

“Giving orders?” Kev chided, his dark eyes sparkling. “A Romany wife must learn to obey her husband. Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier . . . the Rom have a special custom for the wedding night.”

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