Authors: Kat Flannery
Book 2 in the Branded Trilogy
Book 2 in the Branded Trilogy
Copyright © 2014 by Kat Flannery.
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FIRST EDITION EBOOK
Imajin Books —
October 1, 2014
Cover designed by Ryan Doan —
by Kat Flannery sucks you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last. I fell in love with Pril, Kade and the relationship that blooms between them. While there are sparks between them, Ms. Flannery weaves her tale without having a sex scene. In a market where sex scenes are a dime a dozen it is refreshing to read a perfect blend of romance and intrigue without having sex forced on you. Without giving any spoilers you will see the lengths Pril will go through to keep her daughter safe from the men of the Monroe family. They believe the way to break the curse sworn on them by Pril’s sister, Vadoma, is to kill her child, Tsura. The very thought of this would turn anyone’s heart ice cold, unless of course you were the head of the Monroe family yourself. If you are a lover of Gypsies and all things magical, this book will engage you heart and soul. I highly recommend reading
. For if you do, you will be enthralled, entertained but never disappointed.” —Sandra Bischoff, author of
“Engrossing, enchanting and suspenseful.
(Book 2 in the Branded Trilogy) is the perfect blend of paranormal, history and romance. The prequel is as impossible to put down as its predecessor,
. Flannery deftly weaves a tight plot filled with mystery, emotional detail and heart-thumping action.” —Kim Cresswell, award-winning author of
“Ms. Flannery has crafted a taut story deeply embedded with gypsy lore, along with the fanatical fear of witches that permeated the time period. Pril and Kade's love grows slowly, and surprising betrayals and revelations will keep the pages turning. Tragedy and unwavering perseverance fill this wonderful tale to a surprise ending. A richly-woven tale of early America and gypsy lore.” —Kristy McCaffrey, author of
INTO THE LAND OF SHADOWS
For my Grandma, I hold the memories within my soul.
“There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.” —Jane Austen
wouldn’t be possible without some very important people. Tammy Ivanchanko, for her guidance, advice and keen sense of grammar. Cheryl Kaye Tardif, my publisher and good friend for pushing me to write stories I never thought possible. Todd Barselow, senior editor at Imajin Books for his exceptional skills and easygoing attitude. You make edits a breeze. Krysta Ivers, my cousin, for adding to
with your beautiful poem.
My readers, without you I would not be doing this. I am grateful for each and every one of you, and I thank you with all of my heart.
Thank you to my husband, Edwin, for always supporting me even when I’m neck-deep into a story and not asking why dinner is not made. My sons, Skylar, Seth and Samuel for giving me a reason to smile every day and offering feedback on my fight scenes.
I love you all.
A twisted knife into the back.
Betrayal beyond belief.
Magic that is stained so black,
No good can bring relief.
Guilt and shame torment the soul,
For grief with heartbreak in its wake.
A pain so immense it’s dug a hole,
And left nothing else but hate.
Selfishness devours the mind.
Decisions are made in vain.
One cannot turn back the time,
And erase what’s on the slate.
But love can unfreeze the coldest heart,
And right the worst of wrongs.
Even in souls turned so dark,
Filled with hatred that holds on.
The grasp that once held tight,
Telling one to loathe,
Forgiveness will soon fight,
And force it to let go.
With emotions in excess,
Some will rise and others fall.
Souls are put to the test,
But will love conquer all?
“Upon mine death
for the blood ye have shed,
every daughter born to ye shall die before it draws breath, to which ye will know pain and worse, I cast unto ye mine blood curse.” ~ Vadoma
The moon hurled shades of green and grey across the starless black sky. Waves rolled up onto the docks, rocking the boats tied there. The water pooled around his booted feet as he walked briskly along the wooden boards. The air reeked of fish and sea, and he tucked his chin into the raggedy coat, inhaling the stale garment. One hand in the pocket fingered a piece of rope while the other pulled open the door to The Cat House, a brothel on the docks.
Men of all kinds sat at the tables. Smoke, laughter and mugs clinked together. He ignored them all to take a seat at the table in the corner.
“Can you guarantee this to be done?”
“You must kill him, and bring the child to me.”
“Consider it done.”
He shook his head. “You must make sure he no longer breathes.”
“Do not be fooled. He is tough and knows his way around a sword.”
“I am not concerned.”
He nodded and slid a brown package, tied with twine, across the table to the broad-shouldered man on the other side.
Long slender fingers reached out and picked up the package.
Appalachian Mountains, Virginia 1723
Pril Peddler lifted the green shawl from her trunk and wrapped it around her bare arms. The change in seasons brought a damp chill to the morning air, and the heavy woolen wrap kept her warm. She peeked at the small face, huddled under the blankets at the back of the wagon. The charm above the child swayed on the string Pril had hung it from. A dull ache hummed in her chest when she thought of the horrific loss her clan had been dealt.
The evil was near, and she’d need to work another spell to keep them safe. Late for counsel with her brother, Galius, she kissed the soft cheek of her daughter before heading to the door.
Hand up, she shaded her eyes from the bright sun as she stepped from the back of the vardo. She pulled the heavy burlap curtain down to close the opening and walked toward Galius.
“Your steps are light this morning, Sister. One would think you did not want to be heard,” Galius said as he stirred the coffee beans inside the metal pot.
Tension twisted her gut. He was right. She did not want this counsel. She did not know what to say. She let the flicker of merriment in her brother’s eyes wash over her, relaxing the muscles in her shoulders.
“My step is the same.” She poked him with her finger, trying to ease her own nerves and his as well.
His lips lifted as if to smile, and she held her breath. It’d been weeks since he smiled. Pril’s heart ached, and her lips trembled.
He held up the bubbling pot. “Would you like a cup?”
She inhaled the aroma of strong coffee beans and nodded, taking a seat on a wooden stump by the fire.
He handed her a cup and sat down across from her.
The wood crackled, and sparks jumped from the heat onto the ground in front of her. She tipped her chin, concentrating on what to say next. Ever since the murder of her niece, she’d not been able to hold a conversation with either of her brothers without offering apologies. This morning was no different. She could not look Galius in the eyes and see the anguish and sorrow within them.
The Monroes had come again.
They’d never be safe.
She blinked away the tears hovering against her thick lashes. Tsura was asleep in her wagon, while another was lost to them forever. The door of her brother’s wagon creaked open, and Milosh’s wife, Magda, stepped out. Black circles settled around her sunken eyes, and Pril felt the stab in her chest once more. Long brown hair fell untied down the woman’s back. The black clothes, she’d put on weeks ago, hung on her body unchanged and wrinkled from sleep. Milosh came from behind their wagon, a jar of honey in his hand. Pril stood when Galius’ large hand grabbed her wrist.
“They are not wanting to see you today, Sister.”
She heard the regret in his voice, swallowed past the guilt in her own throat and nodded. Milosh hadn’t spoken a single word to her since the death of his child. He blamed her, and it was clear so did Magda.
“I…I’m so sorry, Galius.”
He didn’t reply right away, and without seeing it, she knew he had wiped the tears from his eyes. “Alexandra’s death is not your fault.”
The words were spoken because they needed to be. Gypsies stayed together no matter what. They were family. There was no truth to his words, and Pril knew it.
“Are you going after them?” she asked.
“I hold no power. No spells flow from my lips. I am strong, yes, but they are stronger.” He stared at her, his eyes pleading. “We need the pendant.”
Guilt thickened her tongue. The gritty residue clung to her lips and tasted bitter.
The talisman had been in their family for generations, blessed by each new Chuvani. Vadoma had promised her the pendant before she died, but Pril never saw it, and there had been no time to search for the jewel when they fled.
“Without the pendant we cannot break the curse. We cannot protect our people.”
She knew this. They all knew this, but no one had a clue as to where the talisman was. She’d tried to call an image forward, to make a finding spell, but nothing worked.
“We have lost one of our own. Our clan is frightened. They have lost faith. We cannot fight the Monroes. We have neither the numbers nor the skill.” He took a long drink of his coffee. “And neither do you.”
She glanced at him.
“I know you, Sister. You’re planning to take Tsura.”
Pril sighed. She did not know what else to do. The Monroes were coming for her child. Alexandra had died because of that. Milosh and Magda hated her.
“Running is not going to change anything.”
“It will save lives. It will…help Milosh and Magda to heal.”
“No, it will not. Running will get you and Tsura killed, and that is all.”
“How can you look at me when you know what I’ve brought to our family, when you know that this is all because of me?”
Galius blew out a long breath that moved his thick beard from his lips. She watched, through tear filled eyes, as his bottom lip quivered.
“Vadoma put this burden on you. For that, we do not judge.”
Their sister had died a vile death. She’d betrayed their clan and had been hung while being burned. Pril ached for her sister’s guidance and counsel. She yearned to know that what she was doing was right.
“We had a plan, and up until Alexandra’s death it worked. We will rethink and come up with something better—stronger.”
The plan was simple. Dress the girls as boys, and the Monroes wouldn’t find them. But someone had figured out Alexandra was a girl. Someone had told the Monroes. They came for her, stealing the precious child in the middle of the night. The morning two weeks before, as the clan frantically searched for her, a harrowing scream Pril would never forget echoed across the land. Milosh found his daughter’s body by the river, her neck broken.
She raised a shaky hand to her mouth so she wouldn’t let out the sob she held against her lips.
“I have enough for one more protection spell.” She had lied. Her forehead ached because of it.
He glanced at her, his eyes showing no emotion. “You will concoct another.”
“The spell has the oil Vadoma blessed. Without it, Tsura is at the mercy of the Monroes, and so are we.”
Galius pumped his large hands into tight fists. “Surly you can think of another?”
“I cannot. Vadoma placed the blood curse. It is only with the blessed oil that I am able to create the spell to keep danger away. The oil is almost gone.”
He worked his jaw. “That gypsy whore—
She held up her hand to stop him from blaspheming their sister. It wasn’t right. It brought evil to curse your own, and Pril would have none of it.
“Our sister had her reasons. Leave it be.”
“Reasons? She betrayed us. Left us with a curse we cannot break and wealthy plantation owners hunting our very hides—killing our children!”
She hung her head unable to look at him. What could she say? He was right. Her very niece had died but thirteen days ago.
“Where is the book?”
Throat tight and dry, she refused to meet his gaze. The book held her mother’s spells. Only she knew where it was, and unlike the pendant, she’d not lose it.
“I have it safely tucked away.”
“Is there no spell for what we need?”
“The child is not of my blood. I cannot protect her, or the others, like she can.”
Tsura was Vadoma’s child, but Pril raised the girl as her own.
“And she is gone.”
“Has been nigh on four years.”
Galius’ face softened. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “I need to speak with Milosh. We may have to move again, once he’s healed.” He gave her a light squeeze and walked away.
Pril watched through hooded lids as Galius moved toward Milosh. The two shook hands and embraced. She longed to be enfolded in Milosh’s arms, forgiven of all her transgressions.
She wiped at the tear on her cheek. He’d not consider it, for he despised her. Magda placed her head on her husband’s shoulder. Their love was strong, and she prayed it would get them through their grief.
She brought the cup to her lips and sipped the now cold coffee. Memories of a time, when life was simpler, brushed her mind. There were no worries. No threat of the Monroes hanging over them. They were free. Now, they never stayed in one town longer than a month. The Peddlers wandered the land, searching for a safe haven where they could raise their children.
The rustle from the other wagons brought her head up, and she watched as the rest of the clan rose for the day. Sisters Sabella and Sorina exited their vardo and smiled at her from across the yard. The two girls had joined them a few years ago, when the Monroes had attacked their family, burnt the wagons and killed most of them. Both unwed and beautiful, they were very good at creating new balms and potions to sell at the markets. Sorina enjoyed living with the clan, and she loved to visit with the others, while Sabella never spoke and preferred to remain alone.
She lifted her hand and waved. She liked the sisters and had shared dinner with them many times.
Her brothers knew the truth about Pril’s child and had made a pact to never speak a word of it to anyone. She, on the other hand, was finding it difficult not to tell the others. Each time they hid the children, packed in the middle of the night, or took turns guarding the camp, she felt the stab of guilt twist in her heart.
Pril turned, mug still in hand, and gazed at her daughter. Black corkscrew curls fell around her plump cheeks and clung to her pink lips. She wondered what her hair would look like grown out and knew, if the Monroes did not stop their relentless hunt, she’d never see the day.
There were days when Pril herself forgot, only ever seeing her child in long pants, cotton shirt and a cap. But in the evenings, when the moon was bright, she cherished the mother-and-daughter moments they had in their wagon. Pril told her daughter made up fairytales of Kings and Queens. She’d allow Tsura to play with her dolls and try on the lovely dresses Pril had secretly made for her.
She held out her hand and watched as Tsura ran to her. At four she didn’t understand how to use her gifts, which sometimes resulted in accidents. But it wasn’t the mishaps that had her worried. It was the mixture of good and evil, within the girl, that she feared.
“Oh, my sweet. What has you up and out of the vardo already?”
Tsura’s green eyes locked with hers. “I had a bad dream.”
Pril straightened. Dreams were the way her people saw the future, or the past. Tsura had them often. She took the girl’s hand and led her back to their wagon. She smiled at those they passed on the way. Her shoulders straight, she remained the same not to draw anyone near. Once inside the wagon she closed the flap, and waited a few minutes before she sat on the bed beside her daughter.
“What did you see?” she asked.
“Blood, Mama. Lots of blood.”
She squeezed the blanket on the bed to stop her hands from shaking. “Whose blood?”
The child shook her head, black curls bounced up and down. “I do not know.”
Pril pulled her daughter close and kissed the top of her head. Tsura went very still, and her tiny body grew hot. She sat back and gently placed Tsura away from her. Past lessons had taught her well.
“Sweetheart, are you okay?”
Beads of sweat formed at Tsura’s hairline, to drip down her forehead and cheeks.
She was careful not to touch her and placed a hand beside her daughter’s instead. The heat from the girl’s flesh warmed her hand, and the wagon grew hot.
“Tsura, look at mama.”
Green eyes that showed a red rim around the color stared up at her. Pril wished she could do more to help her child. When Tsura got like this, Pril knew she couldn’t control what her body was doing. She wanted nothing more than to help her daughter learn how to use her gifts. With Vadoma gone she would have to learn alongside Tsura.
She smiled, watching as the redness left Tsura’s cheeks. She reached out to sweep back the wet curls hanging in the girl’s eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Tsura hung her head.
She pulled the girl into a tight hug, her body still hot, but Pril didn’t care. “You are learning,” she said.
She felt the nod against her chest and squeezed her tighter. Thankful once more that she was safe. “What were your thoughts?”
“I was angry.”
Green eyes peered through black lashes. “Because Alexandra’s gone.”
She ran her finger along her daughter’s round cheek. She pushed aside the guilt pressing against her soul. “We are all very sad.”
“I’ve seen the man who stole her.”
Pril waited until her heart resumed its normal pace and asked, “You saw him?”
“What did he look like?”
“He was a negro.”
That was odd. The Monroes always sent a well-dressed aristocrat to do their dirty work. Were they enlisting the help of their plantation workers now? That would explain why none of the Peddlers spotted the well-dressed killer. The Monroes had sent a slave.