মুখ্য The Delaney Christmas Carol

The Delaney Christmas Carol

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এই বইটি আপনার কতটা পছন্দ?
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মান নির্ণয়ের জন্য বইটি ডাউনলোড করুন
ডাউনলোড করা ফাইলগুলির মান কিরকম?
From three of the brightest stars in contemporary fiction comes a festive trio of romantic classics about an unforgettable family—and the enchanted heirloom that links one generation to the next.…Christmas Past by Iris JohansenKillara, Arizona, 1893. Kevin Delaney doesn’t know what to make of the Gypsy beauty he finds rummaging in the attic of Killara, his family’s estate. She claims she’s there to recover an old mirror with extraordinary powers. While Kevin doesn’t believe her mystical talk, there’s no doubt a kind of magic is at work on his heart—just in time for Christmas.…Christmas Present by Fayrene PrestonBria Delaney is at Killara for the holidays when she discovers a mirror that reveals more than her reflection. Appearing in the glass is a startlingly handsome man who just as mysteriously disappears—until she meets him in person that night, leading to a Christmas they’ll never forget.…Christmas Future by Kay HooperA heartbreaking vision in the legendary Delaney mirror drove Brett Delaney to the other side of the world. Now his father’s death bequeaths him the mirror, and its prophecy sends him back to Killara for Christmas, determined to save the home—and the woman—he’s always loved.
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The Delaney Christmas Carol
Kay Hooper
Iris Johansen
Fayrene Preston
A Bantam Book
Loveswept Doubleday hardcover edition published October 1992
Bantam Fanfare edition published November
1992 Bantam hardcover reissue / November 2004
Published by Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc. New York, New York
All rights reserved. Copyright © 1992 by Kay Hooper, Iris
Johansen, and Fayrene Preston
Authors' note copyright © 2004 by Kay
Hooper, Iris Johansen, and Fayrene Preston
Visit our website at www.bantamdell.com
Bantam Books is a registered trademark of
Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a
trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 91-40346
ISBN: 055329654X

Iris Johansen - Christmas Past
Fayrene Preston - Christmas Present
Kay Hooper - Christmas Future

We would like to dedicate this book to
Catherine Coulter and Linda Howard
True friends, great writers, and the best show
in town


It's difficult to remember just when it all began. The first set of our Delaney stories, our Shamrock
Trinity, was published in 1986, but the idea for what we then assumed would be a simple trilogy of
books had come to us some considerable time earlier.
And it was a simple idea originally. We were all three going to attend an upcoming writers' conference
in Arizona. We thought it would be fun if all three of us could "get a book out of it."
But we were all authors for Bantam's Loveswept line of contemporary romances, and we agreed that
for three authors to turn in three books at roughly the same time with a virtually identical setting would
probably not be a good idea.
Unless… we found a way to turn that negative into a positive.
Many phone calls ensued in those days before e-mail. Living in three different states, we discovered the
wonders of the conference call. Our phone bills began to assume the proportions of the national debt.
Suggestions and ideas were tossed back and forth. Titles, characters, ; an innovative way of connecting
three separate stories.
And out of those early discussions the seeds of a dynasty were planted.
Our publisher, at first somewhat disconcerted and rather worried (collaboration between disparate
authors being a somewhat tricky beast), got behind the project with enthusiasm once our determination
became obvious. And we settled down to write our stories.
Collaboration was new to all of us, so we had to learn how to work together. To say we enjoyed the
process would be an understatement, but what we enjoyed most of all was the opportunity to create a
truly unique family.
We gave our Delaneys a rich and colorful history, with a detailed family tree stretching back to 1828.
We gave them triumphs and tragedies as well as epic love stories. We sent them to war, tested their
strength and will, sent them to the heights of human achievement, and broke their hearts. They became
as real to us as our own families.
Our "simple" project grew, and we created an Australian branch of the family for our Delaneys of
Killaroo. Then we went back into our family's vivid, colorful history for two sets of our Delaney
Historical as well as Iris's This Fierce Splendor.
But there were still more stories to tell, more incredible Delaneys we wanted to write about. And
finally, perhaps lastly, we teamed up to produce the three novels you're holding in your hands, our

Delaney Christmas Carol, first published in 1992.
Three friends began, all those years ago, with a very simple idea. Roughly seven years later we had
created sixteen complete novels about one truly amazing family.
We hope you enjoy our Delaneys and their Christmas Carol.
They're some of our favorite people.
Kay Hooper
Iris Johansen
Fayrene Preston


Like many stories surrounding the Delaney family, the truth of the mirror was somewhat clouded by
conflicting tales. That wasn't unusual, particularly given Shamus Delaney's habit of freely embellishing
his family's history, but it did sometimes cause problems for succeeding generations.
Even the most likely explanation as to how the Delaney family came to have the mirror was vague, yet
colorful. Shipped of all but the barest bones of the story, however, it seems that in his youth in Ireland,
Shamus performed some service—about which he was uncharacteristically silent, even in his private
journal—for a mysterious tribe of Gypsies. In return, a Gypsy artisan carved a lovely and elaborate
frame from bogwood for an oval mirror of exceptional clarity.
Was the frame so special, or the mirror itself? In all the years afterward, no one was prepared to guess.
Nor would any Delaney have dared to separate the dark bogwood from the brilliant perfection of the
mirror in order to know for sure. For most, that question hardly mattered, because the undeniable fact
was that the mirror was far more than glass and wood.
It was a window that offered brief glimpses into the past, present, and future of the Delaney family. But
it was a capricious thing. The mirror revealed tragedy as often as triumph and refused to be mastered
even by the willful Delaneys. Only some Delaneys saw anything other than their own reflections, and
few indeed saw what they wanted to see even when the mirror opened its window into time.
Many of his descendants were divided on whether Shamus knew the true nature of the Gypsies' gift.
Some said that he accepted the mirror and stumbled on the truth later, while others were certain that the
Gypsies themselves had explained in language fanciful enough to satisfy even the most romantic the
true nature of their gift when it was given.
Whatever actually happened during that presentation, time revealed the truth of the mirror. And no
doubt there were many Delaneys in the years that followed who believed it was a window best left
shuttered, because it wasn't wise for mortal eyes to gaze into the future.
Still, not even the Delaneys who might have wanted to dared to destroy the mirror. They might well put
it away, but it became as much a part of Delaney heritage as the bogwood clock. However, as things put
out of sight sometimes fade out of mind, the mirror was either deliberately or accidentally forgotten by
the family at various times through the years. Tucked away in an attic or shoved back into a dark
corner, it waited patiently to be discovered or rediscovered.
Bits of its history were lost, for a time or forever. Whole generations of the family lived without
knowing anything at all about the mirror. But then a curious explorer would find it again and become
intrigued. It would be dusted off and polished and brought forth to be exclaimed over.

It possessed its own sense of timing. It always seemed to reappear in the family at critical moments.
And, oddly, it favored holidays, particularly Christmas—perhaps because of the holly carved so
intricately into its frame, or perhaps simply because Christmas was innately a magical time. In any
case, the holiday seemed a perfect time to hang so lovely a thing in a room or hallway of Killara.
And who could resist a glance into a mirror of such exceptional clarity? Few. Most saw only their own
reflection, but some saw more…

Christmas Past
Dublin, Ireland
Cathedral of All Saints
December 24,1883
Zara was elated, but anxious. The young priest was moving slowly up the aisle toward the pew in
which she huddled. She suddenly went rigid with panic. The scent of incense and wax that had seemed
so pleasant was overpowering now, and she could scarcely catch her breath. She watched wide-eyed as
he stopped at each tall wrought-iron candlestick, its flame briefly illuminating his smooth, beardless
cheeks, carrot-colored hair, and broad, freckled hands as he reached up to extinguish the candle.
In another moment he would see her. There was nothing to fear, she told herself desperately. She had
sensed only kindness, compassion, and… discouragement in him during the Mass.
Still, she was afraid. The compassion he felt for his flock might not include her. Why should he be
different from the others? He would probably mock her and send her back to her people. It was not too
late to escape being hurt, and it was not too late to run away.
She would not run away. She must not lose her courage after all these hours of waiting. He could not
hurt her any more than the others, and perhaps he would be kind. After all, it was the season of
goodwill, which was the reason she had chosen to approach him on Christmas Eve. Her gaze went to
the splendid ivory and mahogany crucifix on the wall above the altar.
He had not been afraid.
Her panic began to ease as she waited for Father Timothy to reach her pew.
Two more candles to extinguish and then he could go to his bed. Father Timothy thought wearily. Had
he reached any of those poor souls tonight? He had wanted to comfort and cheer his people in this year
of famine and want, to give them something to hold on to in these lean months. But, he feared, he had

failed them. Their faces revealed no inspiration, only reserve and doubt. And who could blame them?
He could not offer them a lifetime of experience and dedication to God as their former priest had been
able to do. They thought he was too young to understand their—
He froze, his gaze flying to the far corner of the last pew beside which he had stopped. A child, a girl of
perhaps seven or eight was staring at him, her blue eyes wide with fear. It appeared his bed was not to
be as near as he had hoped, he realized with resignation. "What are yon doing here, child? The Mass
was over hours ago. Did you fall asleep?"
"No, I have waited to see you." Her voice was tremulous. "I need to ask something of you."
Children were always full of questions about the Nativity at this time of year. "It's almost midnight and
your parents will be worried about you. Come back tomorrow."
"My parents are dead. No one cares where I am." She moistened her lips. "And we won't be here
tomorrow. Our caravan leaves at dawn and we won't be back until spring."
"Caravan?" Gypsies traveled in caravans and the Branlara tribe had come to take Communion tonight.
The presence of the wild Gypsy folk with their bold, bright clothing, shining boots, and arrogant airs
had made his parishioners bristle with resentment and his own task of putting his people at ease with
him even more difficult. His gaze traveled over the child's ragged brown skirt and bony shoulders. A
huge black shawl covered those shoulders and her head with only a fringe of red hair protruding from
it. Her attire was not so different from the other poor folk of the parish, and she appeared more fearful
than bold. He asked doubtfully, "You're one of the Gypsy children?"
She stiffened warily. "Yes."
It seemed the Branlara were more careless with their children's well-being than he had supposed. "Well,
you're still too young to be out on the streets at this time of night."
"I'm nearly nine." She motioned impatiently with her hand. "And this is the only time I could see you
alone. I've been waiting for hours.''
Perhaps she was bolder than he had thought. "Then it must be very important to you. What is your
name, child?"
"I'm Father Timothy Reardon."
"I know." She nervously clutched her shawl more closely about her. "Old Father Benedict died two
months ago and you were sent here to take over for him. You've never had a parish before."
"You know a great deal." He smiled ruefully.
"Have even the Gypsies been gossiping about me?"
"No." She drew a deep breath and went on in a rush. "I need your help. I cannot read. And I want—no!
I must learn how."
"Cannot your own people teach you? I've heard the elders of the Branlara are not without learning and
give regular lessons to their children."
"Not me." She looked away from him, her knuckles turning white as she grasped her shawl even
tighter. "They will not teach me."
"Why not?"

"Because I'm not… I'm different."
"What does it matter? They will not do it." She went on hurriedly, desperately. "I learn very fast and I
wouldn't trouble you for long. We come to Dublin twice a year. If you teach me, I will come here and
work to pay you for the lessons. I can scrub floors and run errands and—"
"Wait." He held up his hand to stop the frantic flow. "Just tell me why it's so important to you."
She didn't speak for a moment. "Magic," she whispered.
"Around campfires some storytellers give us tales from the books of the elders. Wondrous tales." Her
eyes were shining, her thin face suddenly alight with eagerness. "When I listen, it's as if I go away to
another land."
Pity surged through him as he looked at her. His every instinct told him this child had need of such
escape. "And you wish to read these books yourself?"
"They would not permit it. They would punish me if they even knew I left the wagon to listen to the
storytellers. It's forbidden for me."
She ignored the question and went on eagerly. "But if I could read, I'd find a way to get books of my
own and then I wouldn't need to break the Malan."
"And this magic is the only reason you wish to learn?"
"Yes. Why else should I—" She stopped, her eyes widening in sudden fear. "No. But I can't tell you the
other reason."
"Why not?"
She didn't answer for a moment, and when she did, it was barely audible, a breath of sound. "Because
then you'll be like all the others and won't want to be around me anymore."
A world of desolation was in that simple answer, Father Timothy thought, and felt a sudden tightness in
his throat.
"Please. Believe me," she whispered. "No matter what anyone tells you, I'm not bad. I'm not"
"I know you're not bad," he said gently. "Perhaps whoever said that to you meant only that you're
sometimes naughty, as all children are."
"No, that's not what they meant." Her scrawny hand reached out to clutch his arm. "Then, if you don't
think I'm bad, will you teach me? I'll work so hard for you."
That was all he needed, this Gypsy waif wandering about the parish and further alienating his flock.
Not to mention the difficulties he might encounter with the Branlara for interfering with a member of
the tribe, even such a neglected one as Zara appeared to be. Yet the child touched his heart. She was so
lonely, her wistfulness so poignant. He sighed heavily. "Why did you have to choose me?"
Her stare shifted to the crucifix and then to the statue of the Madonna and Child to one side of the altar.
"Because you believe in magic too."
His gaze followed hers and suddenly his weariness and discouragement lightened. "We call them
miracles," he said softly.

"But you believe?"
"Yes, I do believe."
"Then you'll help me?"
She was holding her breath, her face pinched, her expression heartbreakingly anxious in the
Suffer all the little children to come unto me.
Was he to flaunt Christ's example and send her away just to make his own path easier? "I suppose I
must," he said gently.
Joy illuminated her face. "Thank you. Father, you won't be sorry. I'll come back in the spring and work
so hard. I'll even learn to read your scriptures." Her brow furrowed. "Though I've heard they're very
He repressed a smile. "You most certainly will read them and they're not at all boring." He stood up.
"Now, wait here and I'll get my coat and take you back to your people. It's very late and the streets
aren't safe this time of night."
"No!" She jumped to her feet. "You don't need to go with me. I can run fast. I'll be fine. Better than
fine!" She darted up the aisle toward the vestibule, then whirled at the door, to say, "And they don't
think you're too young."
"The people of the parish are glad you're here. Father Benedict was too crotchety and stem, and most of
them like the idea of breaking you in to suit themselves. You have nothing to worry about."
His eyes widened. "How did you know I was—
"Magic." She smiled with delight. "Miracles! I'll see you in the spring…"

Killara, Arizona
December 15,1893
"Blast it," Zara muttered. Her foot was bleeding again!
Holding on to the corral post for balance, she scowled at the lacerated flesh on the bottom of her left
foot. The rags she had tied around her shoe hadn't protected her wound, and the rocks on the trail
coming down from the foothills had done their worst. Even though it was bleeding again, she couldn't
be bothered with it now. She was too close to reaching her goal. She quickly shifted the rags to cover
the cut, then paused a moment to catch her breath and look at the large adobe ranch house a hundred
feet away. It rose out of drifts of snow and only glimpses of its red-tiled roof could be seen through the
heavy white mantle atop it.
Killara. The house was more imposing and intimidating than she had imagined. For a moment she felt a
thrill of fear at what she was about to do. These wild inhabitants of Arizona had no more liking for
housebreakers than the people in her native Ireland and were reputed to be much more violent in

dispatching them.
Nonsense, there was no reason to fear. From a high lookout she had watched people depart and was
sure the house was deserted now. It was well after midnight; the servants and ranch hands slept in the
village over the hill and would not venture out on so frigid a night. She had ascertained before she left
Hell's Bluff that afternoon that the savage was planning on indulging his lustful appetites at Garnet's
bordello and would pose no threat. She had all night in which to search for and find the treasure—and
get away with it, of course.
The icy wind quickened, chilling her to the bone yet bringing with it the faint musical jingle of wind
chimes from the front porch. Comfort flowed through her as she realized they reminded her of the
chimes during the Mass at Father Timothy's cathedral. Surely this was a sign that what she was doing
was not unforgivable and all would be well.
She darted toward the front door, her heart pounding, her breath visible in the clear cold air.
Green eyes glared malevolently at her in the darkness!
She stopped short in shock and then drew a relieved breath.
It was only a huge black cat curled up on the doorstep.
"Have you no sense?" she whispered. "You're no guard dog. You'll freeze out here. Go to the stable,
where it's warm."
She stepped forward and the doorknob turned easily under her hand. She had learned the doors of
Killara were always left unlocked. Who would dare to steal from the all-powerful Delaneys?
The cat leapt to its feet, arched, and hissed at her.
"Go away. That man is not coming back tonight, and he does not deserve your loyalty if he left you out
here in the weather to fend for yourself."
The cat's paw darted out and raked her ankle.
She bit her lip to keep back the cry of pain. The animal's claws were exceptionally sharp.
The cat hissed again, its eyes glittering in the moonlight.
"You're cursed with a foul disposition and a foolish nature." She was the one who was being foolish,
she realized, talking to the dratted animal to avoid taking this final step. She must not waver at this
crucial moment. She could feel exhaustion seeping into her muscles, the throbbing in her foot
increasing with every step. The deed must be done quickly or not at all. What did she care if the stupid
feline froze to death? He was clearly as much a tomcat as his master and every bit as wild. She opened
the door, hesitated, and then motioned impatiently. "I suppose you might as well go in."
The cat immediately abandoned the attack and ran ahead of her into the hallway. She slipped silently
into the house and closed the door. Not softness but good sense had inspired her to let the cat in, she
assured herself. Now the animal would not be outside howling. How that dreadful noise would wear on
her already frayed nerves!
She identified the scent of lemon wax, pine, and oak in the darkness. She pulled a candle and matches
from the deep pocket of her skirt and knelt; the light from the candle seemed bright in the large foyer. A
massive copper chandelier hung above her and fine pictures filled the wall space. She had taken pains
to learn everything she could about the interior of the ranch, but hearing was not seeing. It was truly a
grand and wondrous place. She felt another jolt of fear. The fineness of her surroundings compared to
her own ragged attire and dirty face made her all the more aware she did not belong there. What if

She did belong there. At this moment and for this purpose she did belong at Killara. She straightened
her shoulders and marched toward the beautifully wrought oak staircase.
At the head of the staircase she paused uncertainly, peering down a long hallway. She knew most of
those doors led to bedrooms, but there should be a small door in the alcove to the left…
There it was!
Stale, damp air assaulted her nostrils when she opened the door to the attic.
Darkness. Cobwebs. Dust.
She drew a deep breath and braced herself, suddenly feeling very much alone as she started up the long
flight of stairs. This attic held more than the treasure; it held memories and perhaps even ghosts of
those who had gone before.
She crossed herself and muttered an incantation at the thought. What if the vengeful spirit of Malvina
Delaney waited for her at the top of those steps? Who knew what caused a spirit to linger. The old
woman had died over six years before but she had possessed a strong soul and would have been
fiercely opposed to what Zara was about to do.
She paused on the fifth step as she heard a hiss from behind her. She looked back to see the cat
crouched at the bottom of the stairs, glowering at her.
"Well, aren't you coming?" She tried to keep her voice from trembling. "Not that I care, you
understand, but there are probably some fat mice for the taking up here."
The cat didn't move.
"You might even get a chance to claw me again."
The cat glared at her in the darkness.
"Suit yourself." She started up the stairs again. "I have no use for your company anyway, you stupid
Soft fur brushed her ankles as the cat darted past her up the steps.
Relief and hope surged through her. If there had been ghosts in the attic, surely the cat would have
known. Everyone knew cats were canny creatures blessed with knowledge of ghosts and the little
people that common folk did not possess.
There were neither ghosts nor demons guarding the attic, and she had nothing to worry about but
finding the treasure and getting away from Killara before the servants came back from their village at
Hell's Bluffy Arizona
"You must stop this foolishness and go home, Kevin." Silver Savron jerked her head at the pretty, fairhaired strumpet in the bed beside her cousin. "Leave us."
Kevin Delaney sighed in resignation as he lifted his tousled dark head from the pillow. His indomitable
relative stood in the doorway. "Hello, Silver."
"Who are you to bust in here?" The strumpet glared at her indignantly. "Get out!"
"Hush." Silver closed the door. "This doesn't concern you. Run along. He has no further need of you."

"That's hardly a decision for you to make. Silver." Kevin raised himself on one elbow. "Did it ever
occur to you that you might have interrupted a very delicate moment?"
"Did I?" Silver's glance raked his face. "Nonsense, you've obviously had enough of her for the moment.
She looks content. You're not content but the edge is off." She plopped down on the chair by the door.
"I must talk to you."
"At a whorehouse in the middle of the night?"
"Where else could I see you? The first thing I heard when I got to town was that you've not left this
place for the last week."
"Who is this shrew?" the harlot demanded.
"Easy." Kevin's soft drawl suddenly held a biting edge. "I can see how her intrusion may have annoyed
you, but I can't allow you to abuse her." He smiled at Silver. "I reserve that privilege for myself."
"Who is she?"
"My esteemed cousin, the Princess Silver Savron." Kevin waved his hand at the naked woman. "Miss
Hester Jenkins."
Hester Jenkins's eyes widened. "A real princess?"
"Oh, very real. Sometimes she makes other realities pale in comparison."
"I've never noticed you paling," Silver said dryly.
The strumpet studied her before nestling closer to Kevin. "Princess or not, she's too old for you. Send
her away and I'll show you a way to—"
"Old?" Silver shot the woman an outraged glance. "Get her out of here before I scalp her."
"Out." Kevin patted the woman on her round behind. "She means it. She may be a Russian princess by
marriage, but she's also half Apache. I'll call you after my dear cousin has the courtesy to depart."
"Don't count on him," Silver said as the woman reluctantly scooted out of bed and wrapped a shawl
around her naked body. "You'd do better to find another client to fill your coffers tonight."
Hester Jenkins ignored her and smiled at Kevin. "Don't be long. I'll wait for you."
Silver should have expected that reaction. Whether they were soiled doves or respectable ladies of the
town, they all chose to wait for Kevin. "Women spoil you. I'm sure it's not good for your character," she
commented as the door closed behind Hester.
"I'm a rich man and pay well for my pleasure." Kevin smiled crookedly as he sat up in bed and leaned
back against the headboard. "Hester's a very greedy lady and knows she won't lose by waiting."
It was the first time since she had entered the room that she had seen that jaded cynicism he showed the
rest of the world. It was a natural armor for the heir apparent to a vast fortune, but she still felt a pang
of regret. She could have told him it wasn't the money that chew women to him, not even the classic
perfection of his face or the whipcord strength of his body. It was the reckless intensity, the flashes of
wicked humor… and the hunger. The hunger had always been there since he was a small child. He had
always had a tremendous appetite for learning, for affection, for living. Now that he was a man, his
hunger included a voracious appetite for the carnal pleasures.
He was wild, hard, and sometimes bitter, and yet Silver's husband, Nicholas, said he saw many of her
own qualities in Kevin and perhaps that was why there existed this special bond between them. Why
else was she there when she should have been home with her own children waiting for Nicholas?

"Does Nicholas know you're here?" Kevin asked as he tossed aside the sheet and got up. He crossed to
the table opposite the bed and poured himself a whiskey. He still had an Indian's lack of shame in his
nudity, she noticed with approval, and his dissipation had not as yet had any effect on his physique. His
body was as tight and muscular as when she had last seen it two years ago on the day they had bathed
in a stream at the tribal encampment.
"Nicholas is in San Francisco." She added quickly, "Not that it would make a difference. He never
interferes with what I want to do."
He lifted the glass to his lips and drank deeply. "Not in any obvious manner. However, I can't imagine
him letting you come here alone."
"Nicholas knows I can take care of myself." She shrugged. "But I admit I was glad he was out of the
picture. Nicholas believes you should be allowed to sow your wild oats."
"And you do not?"
"You've sowed enough wild oats in the past three years to cover half of Arizona with fields. You drink
too much. You've had four gunfights in the last year, and you spend more time in this whorehouse than
you do on Killara."
Kevin took another chink and then made a face. "Well, I won't be chinking much more of this whiskey.
Lord, it tastes foul."
"How can you tell? It must all taste the same when you chink as much as you do. It's time you
tempered that Delaney wildness with good Apache discipline."
He chuckled. "Only you would claim it was my white, not my red blood, that's troublesome."
"I am a half-breed too. I know the conflict you face." She met his gaze. "And I know what Malvina and
Joshua tried to do to you. But you did not let them succeed. You are not a false-faced white. You are
yourself, Kevin Delaney, and there will always be people who hate you for your Indian blood. It does
not mean you have to shoot all of them."
"I don't shoot all of them. Just a selected few." He lifted a brow. "Is that what this is all about?
Plainfield deserved to be shot."
"So I understand. I hear Jud Plainfield is a terribly unpleasant man." She frowned. "But you handled it
very poorly. If a man deserves shooting, he deserves killing. You only wounded him, and as soon as he
heals he will come after you again."
He threw back his head and laughed. "Lord, there's no one like you, Silver. It's not every lady who
would chide me for not killing a man. I assure you, it was purely a miscalculation. I was drunk at the
"I told you that you drink too much."
"Perhaps." He smiled mockingly. "Or maybe it's my Indian blood. You know we heathens can't handle
our fire water. I did pretty well considering my condition. Plainfield has been laid up for over a month."
"But any day now he will be well enough to come after you."
He smiled coldly. "Good, I hate to leave loose ends dangling."
"I thought that was why you were still here. I want you to leave for Killara tonight."
"And I will do what I choose. I'm no longer a child you can order about, dear coz."
No, there was nothing childlike in the fierce man who was glaring at her now. He was totally adult,

totally male, and frustratingly stubborn. "I never ordered you about and I never treated you as a child."
His ferocity vanished. "No, you never did. You shouted at me, you showed me, but you let me choose."
He set his glass on the table and fell to his knees in front of her chair. "Which brings up the question of
why you're not letting me choose now. Are you, by any chance, worried about me, Silver?"
She scowled at him. "Why should I be worried about a libertine who cannot even properly finish off a
"I'll try to do better next time." He lifted her hand and laid it on his cheek. The hardness was
completely gone from his face and his expression was as full of mischief and affection as it had been
when he was young. "Forgive me?" he coaxed.
Silver felt a melting deep within her as she looked at him. At that moment she could see the remnants
of the boy he had been in the man he had become. He was as beautiful and loving as his mother, Rising
Star, and exerted the same Irish charm with which his father, Joshua, had lured her kinswoman to her
destruction. But she must not soften toward him if she was to get what she wanted. She jerked her hand
away. "I will forgive you for not killing Plainfield if you tell me why you goaded him into a fight."
His expression instantly became shuttered. "I told you, I was drunk."
She shook her head. "You may embrace trouble when it comes to you, but you do not seek it out."
"How do you know? Maybe I've changed."
"Why?" she persisted.
"Silver, I don't see why I—" He stopped. "You're not going to give up, are you?"
He shrugged. "Dominic."
"He was boasting that he wanted to bag the famous Dominic Delaney."
"That's ridiculous. Dominic hasn't been a gunfighter for over twenty years."
"His reputation is very much alive, and there are quite a few young guns willing to face him down to
gain a reputation of their own."
"He's not even in the state."
"He'll be here at Christmas. Everyone knows Dominic and Elspeth always come home for Christmas."
"So you decided to be noble and take this gunman down and save your poor uncle Dominic."
"Noble?" He said the word as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
"Is stupid a better word? It's all the same. You think because Dominic is not in his first youth he can't
guard himself?"
"I didn't say that."
"But in your arrogance you thought it."
"Stop spitting at me," he said roughly. "It was no trouble, so I diverted his attention."
"With a bullet. Dominic would not thank you for it."
"Dominic won't know." He paused. "If you don't tell him."

She had no intention of telling Dominic. Sweet Mary, she should have guessed what Kevin was up to.
Beneath a cynical exterior he was passionately protective of the people he cared about, and he had
always loved Dominic. Well, she would be foolish to give up the weapon Kevin just had handed her.
"There is a possibility I could be persuaded not to tell him that you consider him too ancient to defend
Kevin gave a low whistle. "You little devil."
"Don't be disrespectful to your elders." Silver grinned at him. "Go home tonight before this Plainfield
recovers his strength and decides to come after you, and I will remain silent."
"It will do no good. He'll only follow me to Killara."
"But you'll be on your own ground."
Kevin muttered a curse beneath his breath. "I'm not going to be railroaded by you. Silver."
"Yes, you will." She stood up. "You were very unwise to tell me this. You should have known I'd use it
against you." A sudden thought occurred to her. "Or perhaps that was why you told me."
He frowned. "Why should I do that?"
"Men often have to give themselves reasons for doing what they want to do."
"That sounds very obscure. You're telling me I want to go home to dear Killara and leave all these
splendid pleasures of the flesh?"
"How do I know? You tell me."
His lips tightened. "I care nothing for Killara. I could walk away from it and never look back."
"You say that because your grandmother Malvina and Joshua drummed it into you that you must love
it. It was perfectly natural for you to go in the other direction to spite them. I would do the same."
"Yes, you would." He lifted her hand to his smiling lips. "We're very much alike, Silver."
"Except I have more sense." She paused. "But I regret we let them hurt you."
His expression became impassive. "They didn't hurt me. You and Patrick fought well for me."
"Not well enough. We did our best, but we are not saints and our own lives got in the way." She
touched his cheek with her forefinger. "And you are no Don Quixote. Leave the windmills alone. Go
home to Killara."
"Home?" He shook his head. "Killara is damn boring."
"Because you don't let yourself become involved in the running of it."
"I have a foreman who does the job very well."
"It's not the same."
"Drop it, Silver."
"When you go to Killara."
"And be bored to perdition? I'd rather you tell Dominic and have him curse me for it."
"Then do it for another reason."
"What reason?"
"Do it because I've never asked a favor of you before," she said softly.

He was silent a moment. "Damn you. Silver."
"You will leave tonight?"
"Tomorrow. It's freezing out and I'm a little too drunk to ride. I'll wait until—"
"You weren't too drunk to fornicate," Silver interrupted. "And the principle is basically the same. As for
the cold, it will do you good while keeping you out of that voting harlot's nest. I wish to know you've
gone before I leave Hell's Bluff."
"Then stay in town until morning. You shouldn't be riding without an escort anyway. I'll take you to
Tucson before I go back to Killara."
She shook her head. "I wish to be back home before dawn. I'm not expecting Nicholas before tomorrow
evening, but sometimes he arrives early and I wouldn't want to be away when he returns."
"Impatient?" Kevin teased.
"He's been gone two weeks and you are not the only Delaney with a healthy appetite for bed spoil." She
added tartly as she moved toward the door, "In spite of my advanced age."
"I believe I'd better warn Hester to avoid you in the future. She seems to have wounded you."
"She did not wound me. I just do not like her. You would do well to find someone else to bed. She is
not only greedy, she is stupid."
"I agree her judgment is at fault." He bowed and somehow managed to make the gesture look graceful
in spite of his nakedness. "You'll never grow old, Silver."
"It is my firm intention not to do so. You will give me your promise to leave at once?"
He hesitated and then shrugged. "If it will put your mind at ease."
"It will." She started to open the door and then turned to face him. "Christmas."
"You have not kept Christmas at Killara since Malvina died. You must do it this year."
"No," he said flatly.
"The old traditions are not bad because Malvina and Joshua insisted on keeping them. You quite
enjoyed them as a boy."
"No, Silver," he repeated.
She hesitated and then decided to yield the point as she saw the hardness return to his face. Kevin could
be pushed only so far, and she had already gained more than she had hoped. "Oh, very well. Then I
suppose we'll just have to go to Patrick and Etaine at Shamrock. But next year…"
A smile tugged at Kevin's lips as he slowly started to dress. It was no wonder Nicholas had given up his
country to be with Silver. She was bold and honest with a mind sharp as a hatchet and a will strong as
weathered rawhide.
Too strong. Why the devil had he allowed her to wring that promise from him? He was always restless
and bored when he was at Killara, and going there would only delay the inevitable confrontation with
Plainfield. Silver's notion that he wanted a reason to go back to the ranch was pure nonsense. Malvina
had seen to it that Killara would never feel like home to him.
"She's gone." Hester came back into the room and closed the door. "And good riddance to her. You

should see the look she gave me when I passed her on the stairs. Cold as frost it was—what are you
"Getting dressed."
"Because I'm leaving." He peeled four bills off his roll, tossed them on the table, and replaced his
money clip. "I'll see you in a week or two. I'm going back to Killara."
"Now?" She moved close to him. "Not now. I haven't had enough and neither have you."
For a moment he was tempted.
"Don't pay any mind to what that bitch said," Hester whispered. "I'll make you feel so good that—
What's the matter?"
Kevin had stepped back and away from her. "The matter is that you've made a mistake."
"What mistake?"
"Never again refer to my cousin in that fashion. In fact, never speak of her at all." He put on his shirt. "I
thought you were only greedy, but I believe she may be right about you. You lack a certain basic
intelligence." He sat down on the bed and pulled on his boots. "Go away, Hester."
She scowled. "So much for that damn potion."
To cover her slip-of-tongue she hastily said, "You don't mean that. You need me."
"Another mistake. I don't need anyone." He stood up and pulled on his leather coat. "And I've taken a
sudden dislike to that viper's tongue of yours."
"I didn't mean it," she said quickly. "Stay and I'll…" She ran to stand before the door, deliberately
letting the shawl fall away from her naked breasts. "Don't go."
His hands closed on her shoulders and he shifted her to one side. "Good-bye, Hester."
She finally realized he meant it, and her anger flared. "Then go, you dirty half-breed. Do you think I
care? You think I like being touched by a damned Indian?"
There it was, out in the open, cutting. It always came out sooner or later, he thought wearily. "Oh, you
liked it." He opened the door. "You may not have wanted to like it, but I've become very skilled at
reading the truth from the lies over the years. This 'damned Indian' gave you one hell of a good time,
my dear."
He closed the door behind him, shutting away her curses as he shut away the pleasure she had given
him. Both were behind him now and both were empty of meaning.
He was very good at shutting emotion away, a skill he'd developed over the years. Silver thought him
wild and uncontrolled, but the life he had lived had taught him discipline. Now he would set about
concentrating on closing out the cold, his need for a woman, his anger, and everything but the long ride
back to Killara.
The door leading to the attic stood open.
Kevin tensed, his gaze flying to the darkness beyond the open door. It could be nothing. Consuelo
could have left the door open before she left for the village at sundown.

But why would she have been in the attic? She never went up there.
And there was a smudge of blood on the floor just inside the threshold.
Plainfield was wounded. Ambush?
Kevin blew out the candle, set the holder on the floor, drew his gun, and stepped silently into the
But he could see a faint haze of light, like that thrown by a candle, in the attic above him.
Two steps.
No sound from the attic.
Another step.
A rustle of cloth touching cloth.
He pressed against the wall and took another step and then another.
He could still see a halo of light. Plainfield must not know he was in the—
The light disappeared!
He crouched low and bolted up the rest of the stairs. At a dead run, he threw himself to the side to avoid
a hail of bullets as he reached the top.
His gun flew out of his hand.
But it wasn't bullets that had struck his arm, he realized as a heavy metal object clattered to the wooden
A shadow rushed at him!
He launched himself to tackle Plainfield. He knocked him to the floor, mounted, and reached for his
throat. His hands tightened savagely, cutting off the man's breath. "Plainfield, you bastard, I'll—"
Plainfield was muttering a curse. No, it was an incantation or a prayer.
And it wasn't Plainfield's voice, it was a woman's.
His hands froze on her throat.
"Don't toy with me," the woman gasped. "If you're going to kill me, do it and get it over with."
"Who are you?"
The woman was silent.
"Dammit, why were you lying in wait for me?"
He heard a snort in the darkness. "Don't be foolish. If I were lying in wait for you, it wouldn't be in an
attic. What are the chances you'd come bounding up here?"
Something about the tartness of her tone reminded him of Silver, and his grip on her throat loosened.
"Are you alone?"
"Yes, and if you're not going to throttle me, get off my stomach. I cannot get my breath."
"In a minute. I'm not taking any chances." He jerked his muffler from around his neck. "You damn near

broke my arm. What the hell did you throw at me?"
"A flying pan."
He grabbed her wrists, quickly knotted the muffler around them, and then swung off her. "You had a
candle. Where is it?"
"On the floor by the big chest against the wall."
"Stay there." He moved toward the chest.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"You don't know?"
"I cannot see you."
He found the candle on the floor and reached into the pocket of his jeans for his matches. "You will in a
"That's not what I mean." The woman's voice was impatient and held the hint of a brogue. "The light
will help only a little. You're dark to me."
He lit the candle and turned to look at her.
"Good God." A cloud of auburn curls framed a thin, pointed, dust-streaked face. Small, delicate, sitting
huddled on the floor enveloped in a stained and ragged plaid shawl, she looked very young, twelve or
thirteen years old. "You're only a child!"
"Nonsense, I've reached my nineteenth year." She scrambled to her feet, her enormous blue eyes
searching his features. "I know you. You're the savage."
He felt a flare of anger. "How pleasant to be so readily identified. I do have a name."
She nodded. "Kevin. But Malvina always called you the savage."
"Not only to others. You knew my gentle-natured grandmother?"
"Only through her letters." She gazed accusingly at him. "You're not supposed to be here."
"You're not the first to state those sentiments," Kevin said. "And I tend to agree, but I believe I have a
greater right than you. Who are you?"
She didn't reply.
He took a step closer and stared down at her. "I'd advise you to answer me," he said softly. "My
shoulder hurts damnably, I'm cold through and through, and I'm still a little drunk, all of which
contributes to making me extremely bad tempered."
"I was responsible only for your shoulder. You can't blame me for the rest."
"I can blame you for breaking into my house, presumably with the aim of robbing me. Do you know
what we do with thieves here on Killara?"
"Something unpleasant."
"Extremely unpleasant. We take them out and hang them."
"I came only to take what is mine," she said fiercely. "You have no use for it. Why shouldn't I have it?"
"I have no idea what you're—"
He clenched his teeth and then asked again, "Your name?"

She didn't answer for a moment, and then said reluctantly, "Zara."
He waited.
"Zara St. Cloud."
"You're a foreigner?"
"Why do you say that?"
"You have the same slight accent my grandmother had. Irish?"
"I just speak properly. It's you Americans who speak queerly. So flat and odd. I am Gypsy."
"Why are you here?"
She glanced away from him. "I belong here. I'm a Delaney."
He shook his head. "You can't get out of this by claiming kinship or friendship with my grandmother.
There are no St. Cloud Delaneys and definitely no Gypsy Delaneys. Now, why did—for God's sake,
why are you trembling? I'm not going to hang you." He added grimly, "At the moment."
"I'm not trembling." Her teeth sank into her lower lip. "I'm shaking. There's a difference." She rushed
on. "But it's not because I'm afraid of you. I'm not afraid of anything. I'm just a little cold."
He touched her cheek. Underneath all that dirt it was silkier than Hester's, he thought absently, smooth
and chilled as marble. "More than a little. You feel like an icicle." He was abruptly aware that it was as
cold in the attic as it was outside. "How long have you been up here?"
"I don't know. Hours…" She backed away from him. "I couldn't find it. She told me she… hid it… but I
He stiffened. "Another lie? My grandmother's been dead for six years."
"I know she's dead." Her words were slurred. "And her spirit isn't here. I was afraid… But the cat
would have known…"
"Cats always know." She looked dazedly around her. "I don't see him. He was here just a minute ago.
Do you suppose…" Her knees buckled and she started to fall.
He muttered a curse beneath his breath as he caught her before she hit the floor.

She was being carried down the stairs, Zara realized dimly. Strong arms holding her, the smell of soap
and leather, the feel of a steady heartbeat beneath her ear. Safe. Everything was all right now. No need
to fight anymore. He would take care of her. He had been angry, but he wasn't now, and everything was
as it should be. Kevin would—Dear Lord in Heaven above, what was wrong with her? He was
probably going to take her out and hang her! Her eyes flew open and she started to struggle.
"Be still," he said curtly. "It's hard enough getting down these stairs with no light without you causing
"Then let me down."

"And have you faint again?"
"I didn't faint. I would never do such a thing."
"You fainted," he said flatly.
"Perhaps I was a bit dizzy, but I'm over it now." She added quickly, "But I wasn't afraid. It wasn't
because I was afraid of you."
"You said that before."
"It's true," she whispered. "I'm not afraid of anything."
"Not even Malvina's ghost?"
"It's a stupid person who is not wary of spirits."
He set her down as he reached the hall and closed the attic door. "Can you stand for a minute while I
light this candle?"
"Certainly." She leaned back against the wall, watching him bend to light the candle in the
candelabrum. She would not fall. She mustn't show him how weak she was at this moment. "I told you
I was fine."
"Why should I believe that any more than the other lies you've been telling me? Hold on to this." He
thrust the candelabrum into her hand and picked her up again.
He was carrying her down the hall instead of down the stairs. Perhaps he wasn't going to hang her after
all, she thought with relief. "Where are we going?"
"To my bedchamber."
Her heart leapt. "You're going to ravish me before you hang me?"
"Lord no, why should I want to ravish a little girl who's thin as a rail and badly in need of a bath? You
smell to high heaven."
"That means nothing when a man wishes to rut with a woman."
He glanced down at her face. "That's been your experience?"
"Yes. If you don't wish to ravish me, why are you taking me to your bedchamber?"
"You ask a lot of questions."
"It's perfectly natural to be curious in these circumstances. Why?"
He scowled. "Because I remembered that blasted blood on the steps. It was your blood, right?"
"Blood?" She tried to think through the haze of weariness surrounding her. "Oh, yes, my foot… What
has that to do with anything?"
"I can't bandage the damn wound without water, can I?"
"It doesn't seem reasonable to bandage my wound if you're going to hang me."
"Savages are seldom reasonable. Ask anyone." He opened a door on his left, strode into the room, and
deposited her in an overstuffed chair. He untied her wrists and tossed the scarf on the floor. "Anyone at
all. Damn, this room's as cold as the attic." He crossed the room to kneel before the logs laid in
readiness in the fireplace. "What happened to your foot?"
"I cut it a little." She moistened her lips. "I don't think you're really going to hang me."

His lean face was suddenly illuminated as the kindling caught and she inhaled sharply. She had seen
him in town at a distance and this was the first time she had seen him up close. By all the saints, he was
as beautiful as Lucifer.
He said, "Give me a reason why I shouldn't hang you."
"It wouldn't be proper to hang your own kin."
He cast a reckless smile over his shoulder. "I've never been known to do the proper thing."
"I heard that in town."
"And what else did you hear?"
"That you do little but whore and drink and shoot people."
"You have an acid tongue. I'd curb it if I were you. Which foot is—"
"The cat!"
"You left the cat in the attic. He'll freeze up there."
He frowned. "I saw no sign of him. He probably ran down when you were trying to break my arm with
that skillet."
"But what if he didn't? You shut the door and he can't get down. Go let him out."
"You expect me to leave you here without a guard to go chasing after a cat?"
His tone was dangerously annoyed and she knew she shouldn't pursue it. She should save her strength
for her own battles. Yet she had taken comfort from the blasted cat and it wasn't fair to leave him in the
freezing attic. "I don't expect any kindness from a man who would leave his animal out in this weather,
but even you must have some mercy."
"I did not leave him out and he's not my cat. Beelzebub belongs to my housekeeper, Consuelo."
"You're still responsible for him. Are you not master of the house?"
"Consuelo can get him in the morning. I have no intention of going back up there and—" He broke off
as he met her reproachful stare. "Oh, dammit to hell!" He rose and walked quickly to the door,
slammed it behind him, and an instant later she heard the key turn in the lock.
She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. Dear God, she was frightened, but she must not let
him see it. It was never wise to let the enemy see weakness. One must always keep a bold front and not
show the hurt. She supposed she should be trying to think of some plan to escape, but she was too
weary. She could use this time only to regain her strength.
She guessed that ten minutes or more had gone by before she heard the key turn in the lock, and she
hurriedly sat upright in the chair.
He did not look any better tempered than when he had left as he went over to the washstand.
"Did you find him?"
"Yes." He held up his right hand, which was scored with four bloody scratches. "Satisfied? He was
curled up warm and tight as could be in that big chest and didn't appreciate being moved."
"I'm sorry," she said haltingly. "Thank you for getting him out."
He glanced at her. "Thanks?"

"You think because I'm Gypsy I do not have manners? I know you didn't have to do it."
He knelt in front of her and set a basin and towels on the floor beside him. "I didn't do it for you.
Consuelo would have scalped me if anything had happened to that cat. Which foot?"
"Left. You're afraid of your housekeeper?"
"She's full-blooded Apache, not just a half-breed like me." He smiled sardonically. "One has to be wary
of savages, you know."
She realized she had hurt him, and for some reason that knowledge disturbed her. "I didn't mean… it
just came out. Whenever Malvina wrote she always referred to you as—"
"That ignorant savage," he finished.
"Not ignorant. She told me you went to a fine school in the East but it didn't help to—" Malvina's
words had been brutal, and she decided not to repeat them.
"You needn't spare my feelings. She never believed any education could tame the barbarian in me." He
shrugged. "And I always gave her exactly what she expected."
For an instant the darkness surrounding him shifted and Zara thought she sensed a terrible loneliness
beneath the bitterness. She suddenly wanted to show him he wasn't alone, to share something, anything,
with him. She said impulsively, "The cat scratched me too."
"Indeed? Then I wouldn't have thought you'd be so eager to rescue him."
"He can't help his nature." His long hair, tied back in a queue, was black and shiny as the cat's fur as he
bent over her foot, and she had to suppress a desire to reach out and stroke it. What a stupid impulse.
Kevin Delaney was much wilder than the cat that had already wounded her. "This isn't necessary. My
foot is quite—"
"Lord Almighty!" He had untied the rags around her shoe and was gazing at the bloody flesh revealed
by the gaping hole in the sole. "I'm surprised you could walk on this at all. How did you hurt it?"
"The rocks on the trail from Hell's Bluff. I had a hole in my shoe when I started and the leather ripped."
"You walked from Hell's Bluff?"
"A fanner gave me a ride in his wagon for part of the way."
"And I suppose you walked across the ocean from Ireland as well?"
"I would have walked it if I could." She made a face. "It took me four years of working as a kitchen
maid to save enough money to travel steerage on that ship, and by the time I reached New York I had
enough money left for a railway ticket only as far as New Orleans. It took me another three months to
get the fare to Hell's Bluff. I arrived there four days ago."
"How did you get the money? You don't appear too adept at thievery."
"I don't steal." She met his skeptical gaze and repeated hotly, "I don't steal. Tonight was different."
"I agree it wasn't commonplace. Why did you stay in Hell's Bluff for three days instead of coming
directly here?" He unbuttoned her shoes and took them off.
"I had to ask questions. I had to make sure you weren't planning on coming back here."
"And who did you ask?"
"Those women in Garnet's house. It seemed the most reasonable course. Everyone says you spend most
of your time there." She smothered a gasp when he began to wash the torn flesh. His gaze flew to her

face. "It didn't hurt," she said quickly. "You only surprised me."
"It doesn't hurt and you're not afraid," he said caustically. "What a brave lass you're being. It must be
the Delaney blood you brag about."
"You don't believe me."
"We've already established that. However, there are probably a few grains of truth among the lies, if I
can sift them out. I do believe you were in Hell's Bluff asking questions, but I doubt if they were
answered. Though I'm not held in any great love by the ladies of that establishment, they do respect my
money and it's not their custom to open up to strangers."
"They talked to me." She amended, "Well, not truly to me. I just placed myself in a position where I
could hear them talk among themselves."
"And how did you do that?"
"I sold them love potions and told their fortunes."
"You heard me."
"I find it difficult to believe the ladies of the brothel wanted your love potions. Love has very little to
do with their profession."
She shivered. How peculiar was his touch. His hands cupping her foot were hard, callused, and yet
generating an odd tingling warmth that was spreading up her ankle. Perhaps he was gifted with the
mysterious healing power she had heard tales about from the elders of the tribe.
"Well?" he asked. "Do you deny it?"
What had he said? She jerked her mind away from the disturbing nature of the feel of his hands and
tried to recall. "They weren't exactly love potions. I told them they were potions to make men unable to
resist them and they sold very well. Every single one of them bought a vial."
His head suddenly lifted. "All? Hester?"
"I don't remember any of their names."
He swore beneath his breath. "That damn foul-tasting whiskey."
"She used it on you?" She smothered a smile. He clearly would not appreciate her laughing at him, and
it was not a moment to make him any more angry than he already was. "She should have put it in
something else. It never works well in spirits."
"I noticed that."
She quickly changed the subject. "But they were really more interested in the fortune readings.
Everyone always wants to know what the future holds."
"And you told them?"
"No, I cannot see the future. I told them only what they wanted to hear."
"Riches, a fine marriage, long life?"
She shook her head. "Not all people want the same things. I looked deep into their souls, plucked out
their deepest desire, and told them they could have it." She added quickly, "I know-it seems cruel when
I do not know it will come to pass, but it does no harm to make them happy."
He finished tying a strip of linen around her foot, sat back on his heels, and looked at her. "You're

saying you can tell what people are thinking?"
"Most people. I have to try hard to actually read their thoughts, so I rarely do it. Emotions are easier.
They just spill over and can be scooped up and sifted. You're dark to me, but that doesn't happen often.
I am Gypsy and have the power, you see."
"The power?"
"Magic," he repeated. "You're a sorceress, I suppose."
She ignored his mockery and shook her head. "A sorceress uses her magic, I do not."
"Not even to tell fortunes?"
"That was different. I had to know whether you were going to be here tonight."
"You could have looked into your crystal ball."
"I told you, I can't see the future. I had to rely on what people told me." She pressed back against the
chair; it was getting harder to sit upright. "Most unreliable. They said you would be staying at that
bordello until the man you shot recovered, and yet you're here."
"My plans changed." He paused. "Fortunately. Otherwise I would never have apprehended such a
heinous felon. What were you looking for in the attic?"
"Something that belongs to me."
"The mirror."
"What mirror?"
"Malvina's mirror." She threw up her hands.
"You see, you don't even know about it. It means nothing to you and it's doing no one any good there. I
came all the way from Ireland to get it. It should belong to me."
"Malvina's mirror?" he repeated.
"Well, it's not really Malvina's. It belongs to the family. But your grandfather Shamus gave it to
Malvina and she was the one who put it in the attic. She had no right to—"
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about," he said impatiently. "You're telling me you came all
this way to try to steal a mirror that Malvina regarded so lightly she stored it in the attic?"
"She thought a great deal of the mirror, too much. That's why she put it in the attic." She swayed in the
chair. "But she was wrong, she should have sent it to me. I begged her to send it to me."
He frowned. "You're turning pale as a sheet. Are you going to faint again?"
"Of course not, I told you I never faint. I'm just growing… sleepy… the fire…"
"And walking from Hell's Bluff with no shoes to speak of and breaking into my home. You've had quite
a day." He hesitated a moment and then muttered a curse. The next moment he stood up, gathered her
in his arms, and was striding toward the bed.
"What are you doing?"
He tossed her on the bed and threw an afghan over her. "Go to sleep."

"Do you think I'm going to let you out of my sight? Not likely. A woman who is determined enough to
travel halfway around the world to steal a damn mirror wouldn't cavil at making another try. I'm too
tired to go chasing after you tonight." He crossed to the door, locked it, and came back to her. "I'll get
to the bottom of this idiocy in the morning."
"You're going to sleep with me?"
"You bet I am." He lay down on the bed beside her. "And I sleep light. Try to leave, and I'll tie you to
the bedpost."
Minutes passed as she lay rigid, acutely aware of him beside her.
"Stop lying there like a poker," he snapped. "I'm not going to touch you. I must have more finicky
tastes than your other paramours. Even if I could overlook your smell, unwilling women have no
appeal for me."
"I see." She turned on her side and closed her eyes. She would pretend to sleep until she was sure it was
safe to creep out of the chamber. It would not be possible to go back to the attic this night to look for
the mirror, but she could hide somewhere on the property until she could manage to come back. "It's
the talisman."
"The smell." She yawned. "I don't usually smell so foul, but I made a talisman to bring me good fortune
on my journey and hung it about my neck in a bag made of sheep's bladder."
"Sheep's bladder," he repeated distastefully.
"It protects the spell from drifting away."
"And does the same for the odor."
"You don't believe at all in magic?"
"I don't believe in anything I can't see or touch.
I'm surprised you do. Your magic evidently isn't very strong if your luck in this enterprise is anything to
go by."
"You can't say that for sure," she protested. "Perhaps if I hadn't had the talisman, you'd have shot me
instead of just knocking the breath out of me." She yawned again. "And you haven't hung me yet."
"That's true. Hanging can be a strenuous occupation, and I'm not up to it in my present condition. I'll
consider it tomorrow."
But she would be gone tomorrow, she thought drowsily. He would soon drift off to sleep and she would
be able to sneak out of bed and…
.* * *
She was asleep.
He could see the rhythmic rise and fall of her slight breasts beneath the afghan, the shadowy sweep of
dark lashes on her thin cheeks. She was slumbering as deeply as an exhausted child. He felt an
inexplicable flicker of tenderness followed immediately by frustration and impatience. This Zara wasn't
a child but a woman, and he would not be softened by the fact that she appeared to be a youngster.
Gypsies were notorious thieves, and she had come to steal from him, had plotted and planned with cold
determination to—

No, not cold. There was nothing cold about Zara St. Cloud. She was maddening, frustrating, an
explosive mixture of earthy bluntness and wide-eyed superstition, but there had been no doubt of the
passion in her voice as she had spoken of the mirror. What mirror could be so valuable that it would
bring a woman across an ocean and a continent to find it?
Passion. His lips tightened grimly as he shifted on the bed. He wished he hadn't thought of that
particular word. It brought to mind his own present physical frustration. Blast Silver. If she had not
decided to take a hand in his affairs, he would be enjoying Hester's lush favors instead of lying here
next to this aromatic woman-child and contemplating the coming week of boredom while he waited for
Plainfield to make his appearance.
Yet he hadn't been bored tonight, he suddenly realized. Since he had gone up those attic stairs, he had
been angry, intrigued, frustrated, even amused, but not bored. If Zara St. Cloud could accomplish this
particular magic, perhaps he should make use of her.
Maybe. He needed a woman frequently, and all cats were gray in the dark. As far as he could tell, the
woman wasn't actually ugly under that coating of dust, and her skin had felt quite pleasant to the touch.
It should not be too difficult to strike a bargain that would include her easing him of his lust. He was
not unskilled, and she was obviously used to the men of her tribe who were less than gentle in their
She murmured beneath her breath, turned, and suddenly rolled sidewise to rest against him.
Mother of God, the stink!
He firmly pushed her to the far side of the bed.
The sheep's bladder would definitely have to go.
"You get up now."
Startled, Zara opened her eyes. A woman was staring down at her, her sparkling black eyes almost lost
in the creases surrounding them.
"Who are you?"
"Consuelo." The woman's voice was as without expression as her face. "You get up now and come with
me. I have a bath ready in the kitchen."
Zara shook her head to rid it of sleep. Consuelo, the housekeeper who owned the cat, she remembered.
The woman before her was enormously plump but gave no impression of softness. She appeared to be
as implacable and dangerous as the other inhabitants she had encountered in this house. Zara's gaze
searched the room. It was flooded with sunshine, but there was no sign of Kevin Delaney. "Where is—"
"Kevin is having breakfast. He said he will talk to you again when I have rid you of your stench." She
sniffed experimentally. "He is too particular. It is not so bad. No worse than a cow that lays dead on the
range for a week." She jerked the afghan off Zara. "But we will rid you of it all the same."
Zara sat up, swinging her feet to the floor. "Where are my shoes?"
"You will not need them. The señor said I should find you others." The housekeeper's left hand
suddenly emerged with a butcher knife. "Lean your head back, I need to see your throat."
Zara stiffened, her eyes on the gleaming blade.

"You're afraid I'm going to slit your gullet? Why would I do that, when I just told you I must give you a
bath? You think I like to bathe corpses?" Consuelo bent closer and with one stroke severed the leather
cord holding Zara's lucky charm.
"No!" Zara's hand flew upward even as Consuelo grabbed the charm and threw it on the floor on top of
the pile containing her shoes and shawl.
"Give it back!"
Consuelo shook her head. "Kevin said it must be thrown away."
Zara glared at her. "I want it."
Consuelo took a step back, but her expression did not change. "You are younger than me, but I weigh
as much as a young pony. You would not like to feel my knee on your chest." She turned and moved
toward the door. "You will not touch it again."
Zara stared mutinously at the woman's back. She felt naked and defenseless without the charm. Perhaps
Kevin was right and the magic was not as strong as it should have been, but it was all she had.
"Come," Consuelo said as she opened the door.
Zara cast a longing look at the sheep's bladder pouch and reluctantly got to her feet. Even if she no
longer had the talisman on which to rely, she had keen wits and determination. That might be enough.
A fleeting memory of Kevin Delaney's fierce, mocking face suddenly came back to her.
Still, a little magic never hurt. She would make another talisman at the earliest opportunity.
"She is clean." Consuelo threw open the door to Kevin's study and pushed Zara ahead of her into the
room. "And fed. She ate her eggs like a starving coyote. Did they not feed her at that place?"
"What place?" Kevin's tone was absent, his gaze on Zara.
"Garnet's. Isn't that where you found her?"
"No, I found her in the attic." She didn't look like the same defiant waif of last night. Zara St. Cloud's
auburn hair blazed in the early morning sunlight and her skin glowed with a silken sheen. Consuelo had
dressed her in a simple blue skirt and white blouse belonging to her daughter, Isabel. Isabel was
considerably more robust, but the garments almost fit. Almost. His gaze lingered on the delicate
shoulders, the well-formed arms, the slender neck bared by the loose cotton blouse.
Consuelo frowned. "The attic?"
He tore his gaze away from Zara. "Thanks, Consuelo. You've done a good job."
Consuelo shrugged. "It was no trouble. She did not fight me. I think she is not stupid."
"Of course I'm not stupid." Zara stepped forward. "Do you think I don't like clean clothes and ridding
myself of those fleas?"
"Fleas?" Kevin hadn't thought of that possibility. "Consuelo, perhaps it would be a good idea for you to
go to my room and launder…"
"It's already done." Consuelo turned and lumbered toward the door. "I thought you'd brought her from
Garnet's and I don't trust those Chinese who take care of her house."
"They're as clean as you are."
"Maybe." She turned to look curiously at Zara. "The attic?" When Kevin did not answer, she again

shrugged, then left the study.
Kevin's stare shifted back to Zara. "Come here and let me look at you."
"You're already looking. You can see me well enough from there." She sat down in the chair by the
door. "Consuelo said you would talk to me when I was clean. I'm clean. Talk."
"Is that an order?" he asked silkily. "May I remind you that you're the one at a disadvantage here? I
believe it's my place to ask the questions."
Her grasp tightened on the arms of the chair, but she said defiantly, "You will not harm me. If you'd
intended to hang me, you wouldn't have had Consuelo go to all this bother."
"A bath and a meal are no bother. Neither is hanging a thief."
"I didn't steal. Well, perhaps I intended to steal, but I didn't get the chance so I'm really not a thief." She
lifted her chin. "And the mirror should have been returned to me anyway."
"My people, the Branlara, made it for the Delaneys to use, not to be stuck in an attic." She leaned
forward and tapped her breast with her hand, her voice vibrating with intensity. " This Delaney would
use it as it was intended to be used."
Her motion had caused the blouse to slip farther off her shoulders, revealing the upper slopes of her
breasts. Kevin forced himself to look back up into her face. "Just how close are our family ties?"
The question took her aback and she tilted her head to look at him in bewilderment. "We were talking
about the mirror."
Lord, she had a wonderful neck. "And now we're talking about your claim to be a Delaney."
"You said you didn't believe me."
"I'm not sure I do, but there could be a certain awkwardness if it were true."
"If you hung me?"
He ignored the question. "How close is the connection?"
"Your grandfather, Shamus, had a cousin, Donal. Donal was my grandfather." She rushed on. "He
denied it, but my grandmother swore it was true. I know I have Delaney blood."
"Shamus's cousin… that means, even if it's true, it makes you only a very distant cousin."
"You don't wish to claim kinship with a Gypsy?"
"That has nothing to do with it." He smiled bitterly. "Most people around here would claim your
pedigree far superior to mine."
"Then, why do—"
"The mirror. Tell me why you want the mirror so desperately?"
Her gaze slid away from him. "Because it's magic."
She wasn't telling him the truth. He probed, "Like your talisman?"
"Don't laugh at me. It's magic, I tell you."
His smile still lingered. "What kind of magic?"
"It tells the future."

"Then, I can see why you'd want it. Such a tool would make your fortune-telling a much more
profitable endeavor."
"I told you to stop laughing. The mirror would do no good to me in that way. The mirror tells only
Delaney fortunes. And only a Delaney can see the visions."
"What a temperamental object."
"It's true," she whispered. "I tell you, it's true."
She believed it, he realized. She was not telling the entire truth about her reason for wanting the mirror,
but she did believe it was magic. Why was he surprised? Gypsies were traditionally superstitious, as
she had already demonstrated with her charms and belief in spirits. "And you think if you look into that
mirror you can see your future?"
"Why not? I'm a Delaney. Malvina saw her future in it."
"She saw her two sons being killed in an Indian raid. At first she didn't believe it, but it came true."
"So she hid the mirror in the attic."
"She wrote me that only hurt comes from seeing the future and that no one must ever look into the
mirror again."
"Then perhaps she destroyed it."
Zara's eyes widened in shock. "Not even Malvina would do such a thing. You don't destroy magic. It
might rebound and bring down a curse on you."
"You couldn't find it in the attic."
"It has to be there," she said stubbornly. "If you hadn't disturbed me, I would have found it."
He bowed. "My profound apologies. I should have let you rummage through my home in peace."
"I suppose I cannot blame you," she said grudgingly. "I would probably have done the same if it were
my home." She added matter-of-factly, "Though I can't be sure. I've never had a home."
He firmly suppressed a pang of pity. He would not feel sorry for this urchin. He would think only about
how his body had readied the moment she walked into the study. He still felt heavy and aching. She
had caused him nothing but turmoil since the moment he had met her and would not hesitate to do so
again to get her hands on that damn mirror.
Which made his next words as much a surprise to him as to her. "If I let you go, will you promise me
you'll go away and forget about the damn mirror?"
Her eyes widened. "You'd let me go?"
"Answer me. Will you forget about the mirror?"
She opened her lips and then closed them again.
"I cannot," she whispered.
A surge of relief flooded him. "Then I'd be a fool to let you go, wouldn't I? I guess we'll have to strike a
"I don't know what you mean," she said warily.
"You want to search for the mirror. I might be persuaded to let you do so."

"Why would you?"
"I don't believe in talismans or mystical mirrors. What would I care if you found it?"
Hope lit her face. "You would truly let me—" She stopped and then asked cautiously, "Bargain?"
"I'm forced to stay here for the next week or so, and I'm not looking forward to it."
"Why not?" she asked, startled. "I have no liking for Killara."
"Then you're a fool," she said bluntly. "I've never seen such a fine, grand place. What else could you
"A lack of boredom." He smiled crookedly. "And I've decided you might provide it. Stay with me for
the next week and furnish me with diversion and I'll let you look for your mirror. No, I'll even help you
look for it."
"And if I find it, it's mine?"
He shook his head. "You may look into the mirror, but it will remain mine."
"You said you didn't care anything about it," she protested.
"But I'm as possessive as all the other Delaneys. If you find it and if you decide you want it, then there's
a possibility we may strike another bargain. We shall see."
She frowned. "It doesn't sound a very good bargain to me."
"It's the best you'll get."
Her teeth nibbled at her lower lip. "What do you expect from me?"
"Anything I want." He smiled. "Everything I want."
A flush touched her cheeks. "Fornication?"
"A blunt term."
"That's what all men want from women. You'd be disappointed. I'm not pretty and I don't know any of
those tricks the women at Garnet's know."
"But I'm not at Garnet's and I'm willing to tolerate a lack of skill… if you display appropriate
"You'll be disappointed there too. To me it's always seemed… awkward."
"Indeed? Then our time together may be more interesting than I thought."
She frowned in puzzlement. "Why do you—You won't change your mind?"
"Oh, no, the situation is becoming more intriguing all the time. Will it help you make up your mind if I
assure you I'll wait until it no longer seems 'awkward' to you?"
A relieved smile immediately came to her face.
"Oh, then there's nothing for me to worry about."
She got to her feet. "Men are always boasting what great bulls they are, and it all conies to naught.
Most of the time women only pretend to like it. Can we go look for the mirror now?"
He felt a flicker of outrage mixed with amusement. "I take it you're agreeing to the terms?"
"To the bargain? Of course. Why not? I have nothing to lose." Her bearing was charged with bravado as

she swaggered toward the door. "I'll have a warm house and food in my belly and opportunity to look
for the mirror. And when the time comes, I'll have no trouble making another deal for the mirror. You're
clearly not a good trader. Carlo would have no trouble selling you Gento."
"My stepbrother. He did the horse trading for our tribe. Carlo is very clever."
"And Gento?"
"An old plug of a horse. Even Carlo's not been able to sell him to anyone."
He was no longer amused. "But you think me gullible enough to purchase this nag?"
She caught a hint of his displeasure and didn't answer him directly. "Let's go look for the mirror."
"In a moment." He moved leisurely across the study. "First I must prove to you that I'm not such a fool
as you think me. I don't think it would bode well for our bargain for you to lack respect." He stopped
before her and said musingly, "Now, what signs would a canny horse trader look for? Turn around."
"I have to see how you move, don't I?"
"This is foolishness."
"Turn around." His voice was still soft, but a steely note edged his tone.
She shrugged and turned in a circle. ''Satisfied?"
"No." He knelt and lifted her skill. He heard her sudden intake of breath and felt the muscle bunch
beneath his palm as his hand slowly, sensually, caressed her calf. "Your legs seem sound, but that torn
foot would indicate a lack of care given by your previous owner."
Rubbing, exploring, his hand moved to her upper thigh. She uttered a sound low in her throat and made
a motion to step back. "No," he said warningly. "Don't move. You agreed, remember?" His thumb and
forefinger gently pinched the flesh. "Velvet-soft, but you're too thin. I'll probably have to put good
money into feeding you if you're to be of any worth to me. I doubt if you would stand the pace I'd set…
at first." He stood up and his hands framed her face. "Open your mouth."
She kept it closed, glaring at him.
He pressed his thumb to her lower lip. "Open. I have to see your teeth, don't I? That's a very important
part of any transaction of this sort."
"I'm not a mare."
"You're the one who compared our arrangement to a horse trade. I'm actually being much kinder to you.
As I remember, you termed me a bull, and surely a mare is more intelligent than a bull." His thumb
pressed harder. "Open."
Her lips parted.
"Good strong, white teeth." His hand moved down to stroke her neck and then to cup her breast. He
could feel her heart pounding wildly beneath his palm and suddenly his irritation and outrage were
gone. Soft… warm and so alive. He had never seen a woman more vibrantly alive. Only the thin cotton
on her blouse separated his hand from her flesh, and he felt her nipple harden. Even the frail barrier of
the fabric was too much. He wanted to slip the neckline down and look at her, lower his head and—
Lord, in another minute he'd be pulling her down to the floor and mounting her like the mare he'd been
mockingly treating her as. His hand chopped away and he stepped back.

"Maybe I've not made such a bad bargain after all."
Her cheeks were flaming and she was looking at him as if she were a startled child. She didn't speak for
a moment. "Have you—" She paused to steady her voice. "Have you finished with me?"
"No, we've barely started. But it's enough for now." God should strike him dead for that lie. He'd not
had anywhere near enough of her. He opened the door and bowed. "The attic?"
"What?" She squared her shoulders and whirled on her heel in a flurry of blue skirt. "Oh, yes, certainly,
the attic."

The attic occupied the entire top of the homestead and was crammed with a forbidding variety of
furniture, trunks, and boxes.
"Lord, what a mess. No wonder you didn't find the mirror. What does it look like?" Kevin asked.
"It's oval with a carved bogwood frame, about three feet tall and two and a half feet wide." She was
already burrowing in the huge trunk she'd had to abandon searching when she had heard him on the
stairs the previous night.
"No mystical carvings or incantations?"
He was laughing at her again. "It's decorated with holly carvings." The mirror wasn't in the chest.
"There's nothing here."
"On the contrary." He was kneeling beside her, his hands rapidly rummaging through the piles of
clothes in the trunk. He pulled out a voluminous moss-green velvet garment and draped it around her.
"All treasures aren't necessarily bound to the mirror. Warmth can be very precious when it's as cold as it
is up here."
It was a splendid velvet cloak, trimmed in ermine. She looked down at it. "I can't wear this."
"You took Isabel's clothes from Consuelo."
She reached up tentatively and gently stroked the softness of the velvet. "That was different. Isabel's
clothes are… She's like me. This is… wonderful."
"My cousin, Brianne, evidently didn't agree with you, or she wouldn't have left that cloak up here."
"You know who this belonged to?"
"I assume it was Brianne's. She has red hair too." He touched a springy auburn curl falling over her
temple. "And she wears green a lot."
"I can't wear it." She started to shrug off the cape. "It's too grand for me and would only get dirty."
He stopped her. "No, keep it on. I like you in it." He pulled the hood over her hair. The gesture was
oddly possessive, and she was suddenly afflicted with the same breathlessness she'd experienced in the
study. "You look splendid in velvet." He fastened the button at her neck as he added musingly, "I
wonder how you would look on it."
"Never mind." He stood up and turned away. "Let's find that blasted mirror and get out of here."
"Wait." She tore through the trunk until she found a man's yellow rain slicker and handed it to him.
"Here. It may take longer than you think."

He took the slicker and smiled curiously. "I thank you."
"Don't just stand there. Put it on."
He slipped it over his head. His dark hair and tanned skin gleamed in vibrant contrast to the yellow of
the slicker. He looked lean, tough, and yet as beautiful as one of the statues in the cathedral in Dublin.
"Does that please you?" he asked, intrigued by the expression on her face.
"Yes." It pleased her too much. She wanted to keep on staring at him, but she had no time for such
indulgence. She tore her gaze away. "I'll take the south side of the attic. You take the north."
"It's time to stop. We've been searching all day," Kevin said. "It may not even be here."
"It is here." Zara pushed aside a brass-bound trunk to get to an armoire in the corner. "It's got to be
here. She wouldn't have thrown it away. It would be—"
"Bad luck," Kevin finished.
"Yes." She tried in vain to open the door of the armoire. "It's locked. Do you have the key?"
"No, stand aside and I'll break the lock."
"And ruin a fine piece of furniture?" She shook her head. "Someone has to have a key to it."
"It might be with the household keys. Consuelo keeps the rings on a hook in the kitchen."
"Then let's go get it."
"Tomorrow." He held up his hand as she started to protest. "It's getting dark, we haven't eaten since
breakfast, and you're so cold you're turning blue. We'll start again early tomorrow morning."
"I'm not cold." She tossed the cloak away from her shoulders to show him and suppressed a shiver as
the chill penetrated her thin cotton garments. "We're so close. I want to—"
"You don't know if we're close or not. There could be nothing in that armoire but old clothes."
"Then why lock it?"
"True." He frowned thoughtfully. "Perhaps there's a skeleton in it."
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"It would be one way of disposing of a body. My grandfather and grandmother weren't the tamest
people in the world."
"Why would they want to kill—"
"Perhaps they found someone rummaging in their attic." His lips quirked.
"Oh, you're joking." She turned back to the armoire. "But it's certainly big enough for a body."
He took her hand and pulled her toward the stairs. "Tomorrow."
His touch was generating that same sense of disturbing warmth as before. "Let me go." She disengaged
her hand. "If we keep looking, we might find it now."
"And if we don't, we'll find it tomorrow or the next day." He met her gaze. "I don't intend to spend all
night searching for your magical mirror. I have other activities in mind."
She felt the breath leave her body. His tone was deeply sensual, and she was catapulted back to that
moment in the study when he had knelt at her feet and his hands had…

"Don't look at me like that," he said roughly.
"I don't know what you mean."
"I'm not going to jump on you. I told you I'd wait, but how the hell am I supposed to wait if you—"
"What do you want of me?"
"Conversation. A companion at the supper table. Is that too much to ask?" .
"No, I suppose not." She started down the steps and looked back at him over her shoulder. "But we'll
have little to talk about. We have nothing in common. I don't come from a grand home, nor do I have a
fine education. I've always lived in a wagon traveling from place to place with our caravan. A priest,
Father Timothy, taught me to read and write but little else. I love books, but I've not been able to lay my
hands on as many as I'd like."
"Then you may be interested in seeing the study. I'll take you there after supper." Kevin followed her
down the stairs. "My mother was a great reader. My cousin, Silver, said it was her salvation."
"She was Indian, and it was not easy living as an outcast."
"She had you, didn't she?"
"She died when I was bom. You might say I killed her." His lips twisted. "In my grandmothers eyes it
was the only worthwhile thing I ever accomplished."
Zara felt a deep sense of shock. "She actually said that?"
"No, but she made her feelings very clear."
Kevin closed the attic door and indicated a door on the left down the hall. "You might as well use
Brianne's room while you're here. After you wash the dust off, join me in the dining room."
"A room of my own? I thought…"
"That you'd be occupying my bed? Not yet."
She stared after him as he went into his chamber and closed the door. She should have been thinking
about the mirror but found herself wondering about the women who had lived in this house. Brianne,
Silver, and Rising Star…
A portrait of an Indian woman hung over the mantel in the library. The painting dominated the room
and was the first thing Zara saw when she entered it after supper that evening. "Rising Star?"
Kevin nodded. "My mother. Brianne painted it from memory after her death and gave it to me for my
eighth birthday. Malvina smiled politely, and when Brianne left she put it in the attic out of sight."
Another wound. "Then how did it get down here?"
"When I was twelve I brought it down and hung it there."
"And she let you?"
"No, she tanned my hide and took it down." He went to the fireplace and stoked the fire to life. "And I
promptly put it back. She took it down again. The fifth time I hung it there, she left it."
"Why did she hate her so?"
He shrugged "Indians had killed her two sons. She was Indian."

"It wasn't your mother's fault."
"People don't always think with their heads."
Zara was well aware of that fact. She had encountered prejudice all her life because she was Gypsy, but
it somehow hurt her to realize how Kevin and his mother had suffered. How terrible to live as a captive
in a house where you were hated. At least she had been surrounded by other outcasts, free to travel
from place to place.
"Did you hate Malvina too?"
"No, in many ways I admired her. She and Shamus came to a hard land and tamed it. She was no
monster. She loved and protected her own children as much as she disliked and rejected me."
She was surprised he could be so fair in a situation that must have been terribly painful for him. It was
not the first time he had surprised her that evening. During dinner he had been almost silent but had
ignored her uneasiness with the gleaming cutlery and had been as polite as if she were a fine lady. He
had been… kind.
"When did your grandfather Shamus die?"
"When I was five." He crossed to the leather chair before the hearth and sat down. "And no, I didn't
hate him either. Sony to disappoint you."
"Why should I be disappointed?"
"A savage should always display the appropriate ferocity, shouldn't he?"
"I said I meant nothing by it." She lifted her chin. "And I refuse to apologize again because you're
ashamed of what you are."
Anger flickered in his expression. "I'm not ashamed. I'm more proud of my Apache blood than my
"Then why do you keep harping on it?"
"I don't harp—" He stopped, surprised. "Perhaps I do. Silver said as much."
She nodded. "I was the same before I realized it didn't matter what anyone thought. I know what I am."
"And you think I don't?"
He was watching her with narrowed eyes, and she decided it would be best to change the subject. "Who
is Silver?"
"My cousin, a half-breed like me. A very unusual woman."
"Did Malvina—"
"I believe we've talked enough about me. Come here and sit down."
She moved forward to stand in front of him. "I'm tired. I believe I'll go to bed."
"Not yet. It's my turn to ask questions."
"What questions?" she asked warily. "I've told you why I'm here. Why should you need to know
anything else?"
"Curiosity. Sit down."
She plopped down on the floor at his feet. "We do have chairs."
"This will do." She turned around to face the fire and crossed her legs tailor-fashion. "I won't be here

long. You cannot be very interested in me."
"Why not? Aren't you my cousin?"
She darted him a surprised glance over her shoulder. "You believe we're kin?"
"I haven't noticed you being less than truthful so far. On the contrary, you appear to be honest to the
point of pain. My pain."
"I do tell the truth. I am a Delaney. I swear I am."
"Such passion." His hands were suddenly on her nape. She stiffened and he said impatiently, "Relax.
I'm only nibbing your neck. The texture of your skin is exquisite." He began to massage with his
thumbs. "I'm surprised Malvina didn't give you the mirror. She thought the Delaneys were next only to
Gabriel in the heavenly firmament and obviously approved of you if she returned your letters."
"She cared nothing for me. The only reason she answered my letters was that I gave her news of her
people in Ireland. I wish you would not do that. It feels… strange."
"Am I hurting you?"
"No." And yet that was not the exact truth. Though he was only gently stroking her neck, his touch was
sending currents of heat through her shoulders and breasts that caused an aching sensation. How odd,
she thought.
"Then I see no reason why I should stop. You knew Malvina's people?"
She shook her head. "When I was eleven I wrote Malvina for the first time. When she didn't answer the
next time our tribe was in Dublin, I went to her old home and asked questions until I found them.
Malvina had a younger sister and a nephew when she left Ireland. Her sister died fifteen years ago, but
her children and grandchildren are still alive and were spread throughout every county in Ireland. I
wrote Malvina and told her if she would write to me, I'd visit her kin whenever our caravan passed by
and send her word. I received a letter three months later. Every time she wrote me I sent her little bits
of information about the doings of her sister's family. Not too much. Just enough to make it worth her
while to keep answering me."
"Very clever. Family was everything to Malvina."
"It was the only thing I could think to do. Most of the time her letters just rambled on about Killara, but
every now and then she would mention the mirror."
He brushed her hair to one side and his index finger began to trace patterns on her sensitive flesh.
"Why is the mirror so important to you?"
A hot shiver went through her and she had to take a deep breath before she could speak. "I've already
told you."
"Not everything."
She didn't answer.
"Then tell me about your own people. Your parents must be singularly lacking in judgment to let you
run around the world with no protection."
"My parents are dead."
"Do you have brothers and sisters?"
"No, there's only Carlo, my stepbrother."
"All, the canny horsetrader. How could I forget about Carlo?"

She felt the heat fly to her cheeks as she remembered what had transpired after she had told him about
"Are you fond of each other?"
His hands on her neck tautened for an instant. "How fond?"
She swallowed. "Fond enough."
"Enough for what?" His voice turned silky as his hands slid down over her shoulders to rest on the
upper slopes of her breasts. "Is he as skilled with women as he is with horses?"
"Better than most." She was scarcely aware of what she was saying. "May I go to bed now?"
"No," he said a little too loudly. "You're not holding to the agreement. I'm not amused."
So he was displeased, was he? Well, she couldn't worry about it—not when she was in such turmoil
herself. She slid out from under his hands and jumped to her feet. "I told you that you'd not find me
what you wanted." She turned to face him. "You'd do best to—" She broke off and inhaled sharply at
what she saw in his face.
"You were saying?"
"Nothing." She whirled and fled toward the door. "I'll see you in the morning."
"I didn't say you could go."
Anger flared. "Then throw me out of your house, take me out and hang me. I don't care. I'm weary and
you're most unsettling. I'll take no more."
"You've not taken anything yet." His tone was deeply sensual. "But you will, Zara." Then, as he studied
her, his expression changed. "You are tired. Get out of here and get some sleep. I'll comfort myself with
a bottle of whiskey tonight."
She looked at him, wondering why she couldn't leave him. She wanted to go. He had filled her with
fear and disquiet, and she wanted none of it. Yet something twisted painfully inside her as she saw him
sitting there beneath the portrait of Rising Star. Mother and son both had the same air of strength… and
loneliness. "You should go to bed too. Carlo says liquor addles the brain and makes a man as stupid as
an inbred horse."
"I'm not interested in the opinions of your Carlo," he bit out. "Though I fully intend soon to be able to
match him in experience with you. I'd advise you to leave me now if you don't wish that experience to
occur immediately."
Relief poured through her. The loneliness and vulnerability in him had vanished, and now she could see
only the reckless, sensual man. Both aspects of Kevin held a threat but this one did not hurt her heart.
Hurt her? She dismissed the thought impatiently. He could not hurt her. She would find the mirror
tomorrow and soon would be gone from his life. "I really do not care if you drink yourself silly. Good
night." She suddenly turned back to him. "Did you find the key to the armoire?"
"Yes, Consuelo had it."
"Then we can so up to the attic tonight and see if—"
"No, we cannot," he said with precision. "I'm well aware of where your interest lies, but it can wait
until morning."
"But I wish—"

She was tempted to argue with him, but there was so much leashed ferocity in that one word, she
decided it would be best to let him have his way. "Oh, very well."
Kevin reached for the bottle of whiskey on the table beside him and poured a stiff drink the moment the
door closed behind Zara. He needed it. He drained the glass in two swallows and filled it again. He
wanted to follow Zara up those stairs and into her bed. Her body had responded to his touch with an
alacrity that had fed his own lust to fever pitch. Why wait? She might not be ready yet, but he could
make her ready. Evidently her dear, clever bastard of a stepbrother had been able to perform the feat
with no trouble. Why shouldn't he be able to do the same?
He chained the second whiskey even quicker than the first.
Jealousy. He had never known jealousy before, but now it was tearing him apart. He kept seeing her
lying naked, her red hair spread on a pillow, a man over her, moving…
He wouldn't think about it, dammit. He would finish the blasted bottle and then go up to her and—
Liquor addles a man's brain.
And Plainfield was out there somewhere just waiting for him to make a mistake.
He could risk a mistake. He had managed to put down Plainfield before with no trouble and he'd had
more than one bottle under his belt. If Plainfield appeared, he could do it again.
But Zara was in the house and Plainfield would be a threat to her also. Kevin was risking her safety as
well as his own.
She was nothing to him though, a Gypsy who had appeared in the night and touched him and tormented
him. She must take her own chances. He would not be responsible for her.
But how would he feel if Plainfield hurt her?
The thought inspired such rage and tenor that he was stunned.
His glass crashed down on the table and he jumped to his feet. He should send her away. Somehow she
was gaining too much of a hold over him and so quickly it was making his head swim. Ridiculous. He
could satisfy his lust with any woman.
But he didn't want any woman. He wanted Zara St. Cloud—and he would have her. Then he would
send her away and this fascination she had for him would fade.
But he couldn't risk Plainfield hurting her, dammit. He cast one frustrated glance at the bottle of
whiskey on the table before he strode out of the library and up the stairs to bed.

The armoire door swung open.
"There's nothing here," Zara said, disappointed.
"That's not quite true." Kevin wrinkled his nose at the musty smell assaulting them. "It's packed to its
top with old clothes." He pushed aside several hangers. "Evidently Malvina never threw anything
"Naturally. She was thrifty. She grew up in a poor family and was a housemaid in Dublin." Zara's tone
was abstracted as she caught a glimpse of something cream-colored that looked soft. "What's this?" She
pulled out a beaded leather garment from a pile on the bottom of the armoire. "It's beautiful beading.

Who did—" She stopped as she saw his expression. "Your mother?"
"Possibly. Or it could have belonged to Silver." He shrugged. "I'm surprised Malvina didn't bum those
things instead of just shutting them up here and hoping they'd rot. At least it explains why the armoire
was locked. Forbidden fruit." His expression suddenly changed from bitterness to recklessness as he
began to pull out other leather clothing. "But this particular forbidden fruit has proven tougher than she
thought. It's about time it saw the light of day again."
"What are you doing?"
He pushed the pile of garments toward her. "Do you want them? Take them." His eyes glittered a
mocking challenge. "Or perhaps you wouldn't want to be seen in them… you might be mistaken for a
Perhaps he wasn't as dark to her as she had thought, for she sensed his hurt again as if it were her own.
She felt compelled to ease it. She said quickly, "Don't be foolish. Why shouldn't I want these lovely
things? They're as fine as this velvet cloak you let me wear, and I like them better."
"You have unusual taste. Doeskin over velvet?"
"Velvet is for fine ladies. I'll be much happier with this." He was looking at her with an expression that
made her uneasy, and she hastily lowered her glance to the beaded tunic. "If you truly wish me to have
"Oh, yes, I truly wish you to have them." He smiled curiously. "I find I derive an inordinate amount of
pleasure from giving you things." He pulled out a pair of doeskin knee boots and tossed them on the
pile. "But I believe we'll have to find you someplace appropriate to wear them. We can't have—what's
The removal of the boots had revealed something dark and gleaming beneath the stack of clothing on
the bottom of the chest.
Zara's heart gave a leap, and she frantically began pushing garments aside. A faint silvery glimmer…
Could it be? "It's the mirror!"
"So it is. How appropriate. The forbidden with the forbidden," Kevin murmured. "I'll get it." He nudged
her away, pushed garments to the side, and managed to pull the mirror out of the armoire. "Where shall
I put it?"
"Against the wall, by the window." She scurried at his heels as he carried the piece across the attic. "Be
careful. Don't drop it."
"I'm not going to drop it. It's not that heavy." He set the mirror down on the floor and leaned it against
the wall. He chopped to his knees, took his handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans, and started
wiping the dust off the surface. "You wouldn't think it could get so dirty locked in—"
"Let me." She snatched the cloth from his hands, knelt beside him, and carefully began nibbing the
smudged surface. Her hand was trembling so badly she could hardly hold the cloth. After all these
years of waiting it was here before her. In a moment she would see, she would know…
The mirror free of dust, she sat back on her heels and closed her eyes.
"You're not going to see anything with your eyes shut," Kevin said dryly.
"I'm afraid to look. What if…"
"What if?" he prompted.
"Nothing." She could not avoid the test forever. She opened her eyes.

She saw only her own reflection cloaked in green velvet, her eyes big with apprehension, and Kevin
beside her gazing at her with a quizzical expression. Disappointment overwhelmed her. "No!"
"What's wrong?"
"There's nothing there." Her nails dug into the velvet of the cloak. "But there has to be. It lias to
"No magic?"
She suddenly turned on him and said fiercely, "Stop staring at me and look at the mirror. What do you
"You, me, the attic."
Relief poured through her. "Then it's all right. If you can't see it either, then it's not me. It's not because
I'm—" She stopped. "It's just not ready to show me anything yet. I was told it wouldn't always tell the
future; sometimes it will tell the past and sometimes only reflect the present like an ordinary mirror."
"Have you ever considered the possibility that it is an ordinary mirror?"
"No, and I shall not. It has to be magic." She jumped to her feet and went back to the armoire. "You
take the mirror and I'll carry those clothes you gave me."
"I'm surprised you even remembered the clothes. Isn't the mirror the only thing that's important to
She was surprised herself but had acted instinctively to avoid wounding him. What idiocy, when he was
more enemy than friend. Still, she gathered up the leather garments. "Magic is important, but so are
warm clothes and a full belly. You were kind to give these to me and I would be ungrateful not to
appreciate them."
"Kind? I don't recall being overly kind to you."
"Well, you've not been unkind. Stop arguing with me and take the mirror."'
He picked it up. "And where am I taking it?"
"To the chamber you gave me. It would be stupid to stay up here in the cold now that I've found it. I'll
hang it on the wall."
"And I suppose you intend to sit before it until something miraculous happens?"
"No." He strode down the steps. "An hour a d