A Hathaway Wedding

Chapter 1

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Chapter One

June 1851

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?”

“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 na*ed 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.”

“Do they?” She jumped a little as his warm hand slid over the curves of her bottom.

He nodded. “The husband takes one of the wife’s shoes and sets it on the floor, on his side of the bed.”

“Why?”

He squeezed her bottom meaningfully. “So she’ll know who is master.”

Win regarded him with a flirting grin. “We’ll see about that. I’m very fond of my shoes, and I won’t surrender them easily.”

His mouth passed gently over hers, and he tasted her with the tip of his tongue. “You’ll surrender.”

Win pulled away with a muffled laugh. Leaning back against the edge of the mattress, she watched in fascination as Kev stripped off his shirt. Her gaze traveled over his muscled torso, the gleam of his smooth, hairless chest. Her breath quickened in excitement as he came to her.

Clenching one hand into the spill of her long hair, Kev carefully eased her head back to expose her throat. And he dragged his mouth along her neck, using his tongue, while his other hand went between her thighs. He caressed her, played with her, until he could slip two fingers easily inside. His mouth covered hers, his tongue sinking deep, and she shivered in arousal at the simultaneous penetrations.

“Kev,” she said in an unsteady whisper, her hands gripping his bare back, “Love me.”

“I do,” he whispered back, his fingers deep and coaxing inside her. “You’re my soulmate, my twin flame. I knew it the first time I saw you.”

“So did I,” she said, trembling.

“You’re never out of my thoughts . . . I want you always . . . ”

Withdrawing his gentle touch, he lowered her to the bed. As he lay beside her, he smoothed his palm along her front, fingertips sensitive to every quiver of her nerves. Bending over her breasts, he caught a rosy tip and drew his tongue against the tautness, while his hands moved over her in light erotic paths.

She arched upward helplessly as his mouth traversed her body, the soft secret places where sensation converged. He filled her powerfully, following the pulse and heat of her, riding every sweet undulation. And he reached the summit with her, glorying in their shared pleasure . . . surrendering to his own endless passion for her.

Chapter Two

“Keep her immobile,” Cam murmured to Beatrix as they bent over the injured owl. “If she gets loose, she’ll damage herself, and probably us as well. Those talons are like knives.”

“She wants to hold something,” Beatrix said quietly, glancing at the bird’s clutching talons. “Can you find us a stick, Amelia?”

“Certainly.” Amelia hurried from the parlor to the kitchen, found a wooden spoon, and brought it back to her husband and sister. They were crouched on the floor over the straining form of a tawny owl. Beatrix had found the wounded bird during one of her daily rambles through the wood. The owl’s wing was broken, and Cam was attempting to set and splint it.

Beatrix had wrapped the tubby little owl in a blanket. Tearing her concerned gaze from the bird, she reached for the wooden spoon that Amelia had brought, and carefully pushed the handle against the owl’s talons. The spoon was immediately accepted and held. Amelia could have sworn the owl actually looked relieved.

Not for the first time she marveled at Beatrix’s empathy with animals, though whether that was a blessing or a curse remained to be seen. Setting aside her worry for the moment, Amelia took a nearby chair and watched her husband.

Three years earlier Amelia had stunned the family—and herself–by marrying Cam Rohan, a Rom from London, after knowing him only a matter of weeks. Until then she had prided herself on being a sensible woman who had never understood the phrase “swept off her feet.”

But that was exactly what Cam had done. Handsome, exotic, sensual, he was not the kind of man one might have expected Amelia to wed. In fact, Amelia had never expected to wed at all. After the deaths of her parents she had reconciled herself to taking care of her four siblings; Leo, Win, Poppy and Beatrix. But then Cam had entered her life, understanding her secret dreams and needs with unnerving acuity. He had seduced her, mind, body and soul.

And he had stayed, explaining that every once in a while, some Gypsy found his atchen-tan, his stopping-place. To Cam, love and family meant far more than his freedom. Gradually much of the burden of taking care of the Hathaways had shifted to Cam’s strong shoulders.

As Cam tended the owl, carefully folding a splint around the wing, a breeze came through the windows and toyed with the locks of shining black hair on his forehead. Amelia gazed at him possessively, appreciating the way his thin linen shirt clung to the powerful lines of his back. He was a ridiculously beautiful man, with his amber eyes and flashing smile. And how patient he was, his hands deft and graceful as he wrapped the splinted wing against the owl’s body.

“Kew-wick,” the bird fretted and protested. “Kew-wick! ”

Cam said something in Romany, the words soft and soothing, and the owl quieted. “Why don’t you take her to the barn now?” Cam suggested to Beatrix. “She’ll want to rest in her nest box.”

“Should I offer her water?”

“You might try it, but she won’t want much. Owls usually draw their moisture from their prey. Which reminds me—you’d better find some mice for her.”

Beatrix made a face, hating the necessity of feeding live mice to the bird. “I’ll see if I can get Dodger to catch some.” She drew on a makeshift gauntlet—a leather glove borrowed from Merripen—and together she and Cam unwrapped the owl and coaxed her to perch on Beatrix’s arm.

“Beatrix,” Amelia said, “before you go, might I have a word with you?”

“Yes, have I done something?” Beatrix gave her a cheerfully quizzical glance, her blue eyes nearly as round as the owl’s.

She was a striking girl of nineteen, not classically beautiful as Win and Poppy were, but she possessed a sweet, coltish grace and a winsome appeal that charmed everyone who met her. Most irresistible of all, she had a smile that flashed out of nowhere, textured with sly irreverence. Beatrix was radiant, open, and as curious as her pet ferret Dodger.

What kind of man would ever be right for Beatrix? A young one, perhaps.

Someone who would not crush her exuberant nature. But might Beatrix be better off with someone older? Someone who would curb her impulsiveness and protect her?

Ironically, during the two seasons that Beatrix and Poppy had spent in London, Beatrix had been infinitely more sought-after. And Beatrix couldn’t have cared less about finding someone to marry. Whereas poor Poppy, who wanted desperately to have her own family, had had very little success so far.

“I think it’s because Poppy becomes nervous around gentlemen, and she starts talking very fast,” Beatrix had confided to Amelia.

“But you don’t feel nervous around them?” Amelia had asked.

“Well, no. I merely ask questions to keep them talking, and they seem pleased with that.”

Bringing her mind to the present, Amelia smiled at her youngest sister, who was in her usual state of disarray. The hems of Beatrix’s skirts were muddy, and her dark brown hair was falling from its pins, and there was a smudge at the tip of her adorable nose.

“No, you haven’t done anything,” Amelia said. “I merely wanted to mention that much of the local gentry will be attending Win’s wedding next week.” A wry smile twisted her face as she added, “And it has been impressed on me by some well-meaning friends that there will be eligible gentlemen present.”

Beatrix’s expression was similar to the one she had worn when the live mice were mentioned. “Poppy can have them. She wants to get married much more than I do.”

“Yes, but . . . Bea . . . you’re of the appropriate age as well, and . . .” Amelia paused, searching earnestly for words. “What I’m asking is that you let yourself be open to the possibility of liking one of these gentlemen.”

“You want to marry me off?” Beatrix asked blankly.

“No, it’s not that . . . it’s only that I see how absorbed you are in your creatures. You’re intent on helping them and caring for them to the exclusion of all else. But the opportunities you have now won’t always be available. Most young women don’t have more than three seasons in London before they’re considered . . .”

“On the shelf?” Beatrix suggested.

The owl looked expectantly from Beatrix to Amelia, its round face mildly concerned.

Amelia grimaced. “I detest that expression. It makes an unmarried girl sound like a book no one’s reading.”

Beatrix shrugged. “I’d rather be on the shelf than marry any of the gentlemen I’ve met so far.” She looked genuinely contrite. “I’m sorry, Amelia. I know you’re giving me practical advice, as always. Truly, I’ve tried to like the gentlemen I’ve met, but none of them is very interesting or appealing.”

“Perhaps one of them has hidden qualities,” Amelia said, making room for Cam as he sat beside her. “I wonder, Bea, if you might try to view gentlemen with the same sympathetic interest that you have for animals? In some regards, they’re not all that different. What I mean is—” She broke off and scowled at Cam, who had dissolved into helpless laughter. “Oh, hush, you know what I’m trying to say!”

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