Author: Kat Flannery
Genre: Historical / Western / Paranormal Romance
Sizzling ROMANCE, the WILD WEST, and a dash of PARANORMAL make the BRANDED TRILOGY bundle a heart-pounding and satisfying read…
Four years after the Blood Curse, Pril of the Peddlers vows to protect her child against the evil men who hunt her. With her clan unaware of the branded girl among them, Pril has to keep the identity of her daughter a secret. When her child is kidnapped, she is forced to ask Merchant runner, Kade Walker, for his help.
Kade Walker needs to find the gypsy child. Blackmailed and pushed beyond his own moral code, he is determined to do whatever it takes. When he comes across the Peddler clan, he is sure the girl is there, however, all hope is lost when the gypsies capture him. Time is running out—until Pril makes him an offer he cannot refuse.
Amidst greed, lust, revenge, and love, Pril will need to trust Kade. But as the evil nears and doubt creeps in, will she discover that the enemy has been standing next to her all along?
“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 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 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 joined them a few years ago when the Monroes had attacked their family, burning the wagons and killing 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 future, or 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, and 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, but with Vadoma gone she would have to learn alongside Tsura.
She smiled watching as the redness left Tsura’s cheeks, and 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.
“The man did not kill her. He tried, but he could not do it.”
“How did Alexandra die?”
“I do not know.”
Pril pulled her close. If Alexandra hadn’t been killed by the slave, then who had taken her life?
“And mama?” Tsura whispered. “They killed him.”
Pril ran her palms down the front of her skirt as uneasiness settled deep in her stomach and turned the soup she’d eaten for dinner. The Monroes were near once more. She’d not done the protection spell over them all, the one she’d said countless times before to protect Tsura and the others from harm. She used the oil on Tsura, thinking she’d concoct a different spell for the others—but she’d forgotten, and now Alexandra was gone.
She hung her head. How could I have been so foolish? I am the reason my niece lies within the cold ground. There was nothing she could do to stop the desolation as it crawled up her spine and curved her back. Life was precious—even more so when it was a young one. It was any wonder Milosh blamed her so. The shame covered her and blurred her sight as tears washed her cheeks. She’d been selfish when she should have rationed the oil and cast the spell—strengthened the charms.
She pulled the jars from the shelf. Rosemary, bark, and the remnants of the oil her sister had blessed. The jar was empty, except for the thin layer that clung to the glass walls.
Pril did not receive the gifts her sister had. Vadoma had been the firstborn daughter to Imelda, the enchantress. Their mother had been very strong in her magick, aiding those in need with potions and spells. Pril held no such power. Her only gift the counting of the spells. She could not move things, throw a beam, or have seeing dreams. She was useless.
She blew out a breath and stared at the last of the oil. There was enough to strengthen the charm, but not cast a full protection spell. She’d known this when she used the oil for Tsura a month ago. But now that her niece was gone, the act of what she’d done came down upon her, weighing on her heavily. She leaned into the counter and pressed her fingers to her temple massaging the strained blood vessels.
She took the jar and stepped outside into the darkness. The clan asleep for the night, she went to Mortimer, her Ox, tied behind the vardo.
“Hello, my friend.” She stroked his rough fur. “I need but one drop this time.”
The ox turned his head toward her and bowed.
Quickly, she slid the needle along his neck enough to produce one drop of blood. She held the jar next to Mortimer’s neck watching as the blood ran into the glass mug and mixed with the oil. She dipped her finger into the mixture and ran it along the scratch.
“For the gift thou hast given, receive mine with love.” She watched as the wound healed.
Inside the vardo, she stoked the fire in the small cook stove and placed an empty pot on the burner. She pinched the rosemary, a symbol of Vadoma, and dropped it into the jar of oil to swirl with the spice. She watched as it mixed together with the oil and blood. Next she took the bark from the forest and dropped it into the pot. The bark sparked. She poured the mixture of oil, blood and rosemary into the pot listening as it bubbled and hissed.
“Protect mine child from the evil that hunts. Keep her spirit hidden to their wants.”
The liquid evaporated into a cloud of smoke, and she watched as it drifted over the child to settle on top of her sleeping form.
~ Author Bio ~
Kat Flannery’s love of history shows in her novels. She is an avid reader of historical, suspense, paranormal, and romance. She has her Certificate in Freelance and Business Writing.
A member of many writing groups, Kat enjoys promoting other authors on her blog. Kat loves to teach writing classes and give back to other aspiring authors. She volunteers her time at the local library facilitating their writing group. She’s been published in numerous periodicals throughout her career
Her debut novel CHASING CLOVERS has been an Amazon Top 100 Paid bestseller twice. LAKOTA HONOR, BLOOD CURSE, and SACRED LEGACY (Branded Trilogy) are Kat’s three award-winning novels and HAZARDOUS UNIONS is Kat’s first novella. Kat is currently hard at work on her next series, THE MONTGOMERY SISTERS.
Visit Kat at: www.katflannerybooks.com
Find her on Facebook: Kat Flannery, author
Follow her on Twitter: @KatFlannery1
~ Links ~
Universal Link: https://getbook.at/BrandedTrilogy
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~ R A F F L E C O P T E R ~