Sleight of Heart Excerpt

SLEIGHT OF HEART FRONT 200x300Sleight of Heart

CHAPTER 1

Lord Taliesin Solitaire walked along the waterfront taking in the familiar scent of the Irish Sea. It was an unusually warm December evening in Wales along about ten and he hoped to stave off yet another night of interminable loneliness by walking the boardwalk from end to end. Memories of his beloved—and equally loathed—Christophe plagued him still and, after two hundred years, he knew they would haunt him for the remainder of his unnatural existence. He’d learned to bear them without repining.

As a rule, he wore his hooded woollen cloak no matter the climate to hide his appearance and shield his sensitive lavender eyes. Tonight he didn’t give two ffyrlingau what people thought of his appearance and carried it over his arm. Llewellyn’s balls, it was the year 2016 and albinism wasn’t a plague. Well, he did care about his appearance to a degree he supposed, his vanity not quite lost in his years. He’d bound his nearly floor-length white hair in a single braid in an effort to minimize attentions, and was thankful his aristocratic good looks offset his distinctly nacreous skin. His striking good looks were a gift from his beautiful Catalonian mother. His Welsh father, while of high station, was simply plain—save for his large blue eyes.

Although the humans’ acceptance of preternaturals made life easier, in many ways the information age of the twenty-first century made it harder. The laws governing vampires were restrictive and, apart from his daughter and a few trusted servants, he was isolated and, if at all possible, his vampirism cast a greater morbid pall over his existence than his albinism. Though turned at a youthful and fit thirty-six years of age, his two centuries as un mort-vivant had stolen his verve. He often wondered whether eternal life was worth the perfect loneliness.

He continued his slow pace alongside the sea and considered the possibilities for amusement on this fine warm evening. There was the old French jongleur with his farcical enactments, French fabliaux and chansons de geste, and lays. More jocular yet was the youthful trouvère with his lyrical poetry au langue d’oc. The cheeky trouvère antagonized the old jongleur by situating himself just close enough to steal customers and, thereby, the old man’s tips. A fight would ensue by the end of any given evening, sure to be the most satisfactory entertainment on the waterfront. Taliesin smiled to himself as he contemplated whether the two deliberately fought in an effort to extort better tips from unsuspecting passersby. Still and all, the palm-reading gypsy near the clock tower fascinated him most.

Having amused himself long enough with the jongleur and trouvère, he meandered toward the clock tower. He was surprised to feel his heart speed at the prospect of seeing the wee gypsy again. Moving bewildered feet forward, he headed down the boardwalk.

He watched the young gypsy ply his talents with a young couple, teasing the maiden’s palm with a feigned touch of a fingertip. Gods, he was a gorgeous young man. The jet curls, the exotic yet angelic visage, and, oh, those gold-hazel eyes. Well, everything about him flat did Taliesin in. Nevertheless, he knew better than to go near the young man.

The gypsy was expert at his sleight of hand and, with each giggle from the fair lady, her suitor favoured the gypsy a quid. When he broke out the tarot, the gent waved him off while the fair lady pled for one read. Alas, the gent won out and tugged her away by the hand.

Along came two men Taliesin guessed to be of the gentler persuasion. The clever gypsy feigned a serious reading before saying something that caused them to blush with delight. The gypsy was favoured with a ten-pound note before they went away.

Next came along a stout older couple. From the man’s accent, Taliesin surmised he was Italian. The gypsy appeared wary of the man at first, then won him over with a witty quip. “Come, come! Look at your beautiful lady! Luck already smiles on you, sir!”

Another five quid before they went away.

Taliesin watched the young man as he straightened the tarot cards, adjusted his chair, and sat patiently, hands folded on the table. It was then that Taliesin noticed two things almost simultaneously: beneath the jet curls was a bejewelled circlet of gold and his feet were bare. How he noticed both things at once given they were at opposite ends of the young man’s physique puzzled him. He shook his head ever so slightly as if to abolish the quandary from his thoughts. At the risk of exposing his sensitive eyes to intolerable light, Taliesin focused his vampiric vision on the circlet. The young man hid it masterfully under his obsidian hair, the gems across his forehead barely noticeable under his floppy curls. He narrowed his keen vision again. The soles of his inordinately small feet were not only free of the calluses one might expect, but were clean. The young man idly tinkered with a gold ring on his thumb. As with his feet, his hands were inordinately small and thick fingered. Strong fingers, he thought. He imagined them caressing his body, then chastised himself for his overactive imagination. Gods, was it possible he was so enamoured of the gypsy as to find his hands and feet alluring?

Pesha pretended not to notice the tall, pale man who watched him. All the gadje stared at the gypsy. He was used to it but this one made him nervous. Not because he was sinister, but because he wasn’t. He’d seen him on the boardwalk before, always covered from head to toe in his cloak. He was often in the company of a pretty, young woman Pesha presumed to be his wife. He envied how the handsome man treated her, always showing his love with gentle kisses to her forehead and hand, always protecting her from unwanted leers and advances. She laughed often as they walked the waterfront arm in arm, knowing she was safe and loved. How he longed for someone to love him so dearly. Not someone. The pale man before him.

The man and his wife came to his table only once. The lady had been pleased with his reading and the handsome man had paid him twenty quid. It was then that he’d seen the amazing lavender eyes. Never had he seen such beautiful eyes and he’d dreamed about them nightly since. So often so, he’d come to regard the handsome man as his secret white knight. Now, the white hair, the long braid, dajo, never had he seen hair so shiny or long. The image would only serve to embellish his already erotic dreams of the gadjo. Dare he risk a glance? Why not? The man didn’t know his secret desires. Schooling his face to one of typical defiance, he looked up. Without the hooded cloak to hide him, Pesha saw the entire man for the first time. Tall, sinewy, certainly born of high station, and more handsome than he’d ever imagined. When their eyes met, Pesha felt his expression fall to one of perfect longing. He turned away before his hot blush gleamed scarlet under the golden light of the clock tower.

It took every ounce of Taliesin’s unnatural strength to remain as still as a statue. Was it longing he saw in the young man’s eyes? Surely not. Yet the heated scent of his blush sent to flight on the air told Taliesin otherwise. The rush of the blood and the clove and cinnamon scent of the man’s skin thrilled Taliesin’s senses with competing desires. He couldn’t prevent his groin from swelling its promise for an agonizing evening while his fangs threatened to descend. Gods, I need to leave here. Simply turn and walk away, he told himself.

The sound of an abusive bark brought him abruptly from his reverie.

“Ye fockin’ dirty gypsy! That ain’t what it say on me hand!” The nasty man slapped the side of the gypsy’s head and walked away.

“Ah, filthy gadjo!” the gypsy yelled.

Taliesin was immediately in front of the departing man, towering over him with a low growl and an icy glare. Taliesin backed him up to the table and pointed.

“Righto. Didn’t mean nothin’ by it. Didn’t know he had a handler.” He dropped a quid on the table and tried to circumnavigate Taliesin. Taliesin caught him by the arm and pointed again. “He ain’t worth a farthing much less me quid!” the man protested. Taliesin slapped the side of his head, mindful not to use his otherworldly strength for it would kill the man. “Fergus’s balls!” the man yelled as he dug in his pocket and dropped five quid on the table. Taliesin released him and he all but ran from the boardwalk.

“Th-thank you,” the gypsy stammered. Taliesin only nodded and returned to his distant observation point.

Strange, beautiful gadjo, Pesha thought before deciding it was late and he’d made enough money to keep the great King Vaida Sinclair off his back for another day. He’d curse his father but for fear he’d be made more unclean or unlucky than he already was. Though prepared to return to the compania and face his father, he dreaded the thought of being within arm’s reach of Merripen. With an exasperated sigh, he pulled his shoes from his rucksack and slipped his feet into them. Though he knew he should never go barefoot, the gadje paid more if they thought you were poor. He collected his decks and placed them in the rucksack then folded his table and chair and tied them together with a bright red nylon rope.

Taliesin watched the small gypsy pack up his property, rapt in the vision of the lovely man’s liquid grace. He allowed his imagination to caress his young interest and wondered what it would be like to hold him in his arms. Sadness rent his heart at the thought of losing the gypsy to admire and protect for the evening. As if decreed by the fates, he suddenly realised that his time with the young man gave him a long needed sense of purpose. Gods, Solitaire, must you do this to yourself? You can’t become involved with anyone, he chastened himself for the thousandth time.

Pesha thought he should thank the sexy gadjo again but didn’t have the courage. He’d barely remembered his English only moments ago. He could do some sort of a service for him. Hail a cab so he wouldn’t have to walk home, perhaps. Ava, yes, a good idea. He didn’t want his knight left alone on the boardwalk in the event the filthy gadjo came back with friends. He dared to glance at his handsome knight only to find himself drowning in the pools that were his lavender eyes once again. Diri dacha, he was going to faint if he didn’t do something other than stand here. Without further thought, he ran to his knight and seized the cloak from his arm. “Come!” he called as he motioned to his knight to follow him.

Taliesin couldn’t believe what had happened. Surprised by the gypsy’s sudden burst into action, he’d allowed him to steal his cloak bang off his arm. Using his inordinate speed, he could head the young man off in a split second, but he dared not do so amidst the human passersby. He’d be damned, more so than he already was, if he would chase the little gypsy down the boardwalk. Curse the Morrigan, he swore to himself as he strode after the young man. Twenty meters from the roundabout at the end of the boardwalk, the young man ran back to him.

“Come, come!” the gypsy motioned for him to hurry.

Taliesin strode past the commons and came to an abrupt halt upon seeing the gypsy. There the young man stood holding the door to a cab open with one hand while holding his cloak out with the other. Taliesin rocked up and back on the balls of his feet. Was he telling him to leave? He didn’t need a cab. Then again, the young man didn’t know that. Perhaps he thought he was doing a favour. Taliesin didn’t want to leave him alone on the boardwalk in the event the nasty customer returned. The young man should take the cab.

“Come!” the gypsy insisted.

Taliesin stepped forward and retrieved his cloak from the young man, and in doing so realised just how small he was in contrast to his own six foot two. He was smaller than he first thought, shorter than a normal man’s height by far. Taliesin motioned for him to take the cab.

Na, na, na,” the young man shook his head and waved his hands quickly, his large jet curls bouncing around his well-defined shoulders. “For you, rajkano, for you”

Having absolutely no idea what to do, Taliesin climbed into the backseat of the cab. As he closed the door, he saw the gypsy’s gold-hazel eyes up close for the first time. They held a longing that seared his heart and he wondered with momentary alarm whether his own eyes betrayed his emotions to the gypsy.

When the young man put his hand against the window, he inexplicably couldn’t prevent his answering motion. He placed his hand opposing the beautiful young man’s and the glass heated between them seeming to reflect their mutual desire. There he remained for the briefest of moments, spellbound by the beautiful golden eyes. The young man canted his head ever so slightly as if in unspoken inquiry. Seeming to read Taliesin’s unvarnished need, the handsome young man gave him a knowing smile, then mouthed something unintelligible and stepped away from the cab.

The cabby startled Taliesin from his trance with a low chuckle. “Okay, rajkano, where you want to go?”

As Taliesin finally turned his attention to the old Russian cabby, there came a sharp rap on the window. Startled, he looked to the window to find the gypsy placing his hand against the glass once more. His heart skipped a beat, and had he not been seated, he might have swooned. Again, he couldn’t prevent his answering gesture. He met the gypsy’s pressed hand with his own and saw not mockery, but utter happiness in the gypsy’s bright gold eyes. Then the young man waved a good-bye and ran off. Taliesin’s heart fluttered as if it were a trapped thing in a cage and his emotions threatened to overrun his senses. At first, he basked in the idea that the young man might be interested in him. Then his hopes flattened as if crushed by an anvil. You’re a vampire, Solitaire, and for all you know the young man’s actions were merely those of polite Romani custom.

The old Russian spied him in the rearview mirror. “You know what rajkano mean from a gypsy?”

Taliesin shook his head.

“He call you beautiful, handsome. I think he like you. Most Romani I no like. This gypsy I like. He give me good business and he nice. He look small but he is grown man, you know? Where you want to go beautiful man?”

His hopes somewhat renewed, Taliesin handed him his card.

“Oh, Lord Solitaire, I mean no disrespect,” the Russian said quickly.

Taliesin waved him off.

“The castle on the cliff? This where I go?”

Taliesin nodded.

“You no talk too much.”

Taliesin smiled and shook his head. Would that I could, he thought wryly.

End of excerpt.

Can Taliesin rescue Pesha from the cruel clutches of his half-brother a second time?


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