Why wasn't she frightened of him? He was actually frightened for her, because he knew what he was capable of.

He hadn't been aware of pulling her closer. All he knew was that now part of her weight was resting on him as he lay on the bed, and his fingertips had curled into the pliant flesh of her upper arms.


"Let go," she told him gently.

He didn't want to. Ever. He wanted to keep her against him, and pull her braided hair down and comb his fingers through the pale silk. He wanted to carry her off to the ends of the earth.

"If I do," he said gruffly, "will you stay?"

The delicate lips curved. Sweet, delicious smile. "Silly boy. Of course I'll stay. I've come to visit you."

Slowly his fingers loosened. He thought she would run away, but she remained. "Lie back," she told him.

"Why are you dressed so early?" Her eyes widened. "Oh. You mustn't leave. Not until you're well."

She needn't have worried. Kev's plans to escape had disappeared the second he had seen her. He eased back against the pillows, watching intently as she sat on the chair. She was wearing a pink dress. The edges of it, at the neck and wrists, were trimmed with little ruffles.

"What is your name?" she asked.

Kev hated talking. Hated making conversation with anyone. But he was willing to do anything to keep her with him. "Merripen."

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"Is that your first name?"

He shook his head.

Winnifred tilted her head to the side. "Won't you tell it to me?"

He couldn't. A Rom could only share his true name with others in the Rom.

"At least give me the first letter," she coaxed.

Kev stared at her, perplexed.

"I don't know many Gypsy names," she said. "Is it Luca? Marko? Stefan?"

It occurred to Kev that she was trying to play a game with him. Teasing him. He didn't know how to respond. Usually if someone tried to tease him, he responded by sinking his fist into the offender's face.

"Someday you will tell me," she said with a little grin. She made a move as if to rise from the chair, and Kev's hand shot out to grip her arm. Surprise flickered across her face.

"You said you would stay," he said roughly. Her free hand came to the one clamped around her wrist. "I will. Be at ease, Merripen. I'm only going to fetch some bread and tea for us. Let me go. I'll come right back." Her palm was light and warm as it rubbed over his hand. "I'll stay in here all day, if you wish."

"They won't let you."

"Oh yes, they will." She coaxed his hand to loosen, gently prying at his fingers. "Don't be so anxious. My goodness. I thought Gypsies were supposed to be merry."

She almost made him smile.

"I've had a bad week," he told her gravely.

She was still busy trying to detach his fingers from her arm. "Yes, I can see that. How did you come to be hurt?"

"Gadjos attacked my tribe. They may come for me here." He stared at her hungrily but forced himself to let go of her. "I'm not safe. I should go."

"No one would dare take you away from us. My father is a very respected man in the village. A scholar." Seeing Merripen's doubtful expression, she added, "The pen is mightier than the sword, you know."

That sounded like something a gadjo would say. It made no sense at all. "The men who attacked my vitsa last week were not armed with pens."

"You poor thing," she said compassionately. "I'm sorry. Your wounds must hurt after all this moving about. I'll get you some tonic."

Kev had never been the object of sympathy before. He didn't like it. His pride bristled. "I won't take it. Gadjo medicine doesn't work. If you bring it, I'll only throw it on the-"

"All right. Don't excite yourself. I'm sure it's not good for you." She went to the door, and a thrill of desperation shook Kev's frame. He was certain she would not come back. And he wanted her near him so badly. Had he the strength, he would have leaped from the bed and seized her again. But that wasn't possible.

So he fixed her with a sullen stare and muttered, "Go, then. Devil take you."

Winnifred paused at the doorway and glanced over her shoulder with a quizzical grin. "How contrary and cross you are. I will come back with bread and tea and a book, and I will stay as long as it takes to get a smile from you."

"I never smile," he told her.

Much to his surprise, Win did return. She spent the better part of a day reading to him, some dull and wordy story that made him drowsy with contentment. No music, no rustling of trees in the forest, no bird-songs had ever pleased him as much as her soft voice. Occasionally another family member came to the doorway, but Kev couldn't bring himself to snap at any of them. He was full of ease for the first time he could ever remember. He couldn't seem to hate anyone when he was so close to happiness.

The next day the Hathaways brought him to the main room in the cottage, a parlor filled with worn furniture. Every available surface was covered with sketches, needlework, and piles of books. One couldn't move without knocking something over.

While Kev half-reclined on the sofa, the smaller girls played on the carpet nearby, trying to teach tricks to Beatrix's pet squirrel. Leo and his father played chess in the corner. Amelia and her mother cooked in the kitchen. And Win sat close to Kev and worked on his hair.

"You have the mane of a wild beast," she told him, using her fingers to pull apart snarls, then combing the tangled black strands with great care. "Hold still. I'm trying to make you look more civi-oh, do stop flinching. Your head can't possibly be that sensitive."

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