Curse of the Gypsy

By: Donna Lea Simpson

Books in the Lady Anne Mystery Series





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Bill and Jessica,

Thank you for all your invaluable help

in bringing Lady Anne’s

continuing story to my readers.

I couldn’t have done it without you!



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One



“Hit me again, Osei,” the Marquess of Darkefell roared, his fists raised, his biceps bulging. “I dare you!”

Osei Boatin, stripped to the waist, dark skin glittering with sweat in the brilliant Yorkshire sunshine, circled his employer in the dusty stable yard behind Darkefell Castle. A ring of jeering, cheering, catcalling grooms and gardeners stood around them, betting on the outcome, the odds favoring the marquess at more than two to one.

But Darkefell, crouched and still feeling the sting of a well-placed blow, carefully watched Osei. The younger man was thin, but not without strength and skill. The marquess was much stronger, though, and would not be taken off guard again. “C’mon, Osei, come at me again,” Darkefell growled. He needed this battering, bruising fight, needed the excuse to beat someone. When his secretary showed no sign of attacking, he launched himself at the slighter man, taking him down to the ground; they tussled in the dirt, wrestling, grunting, sweating until dust clung to every muscle and sinew.

Neither could gain a purchase on the bare skin of the other, their arms, dark and light twisted together, tangling and tugging, sweat and blood turning the grime to slippery muck. But no advancement was made until finally the younger, lighter-in-weight man caught the marquess off balance and put his arm over his employer’s head. Once so locked into place, Osei could not move an inch more, for Darkefell resisted and began the slow process of freeing himself. Every time he freed a limb, though, Osei would twist and recapture it.

Finally both men were exhausted and Darkefell hollered, “Enough!” He pulled Osei’s long slim fingers off his ankle and extricated himself from his secretary’s hold, then rolled away in the dust, moving smoothly to stand.

Osei stood, too, and dusted himself down, his ribs standing out in relief, barely covered by a mat of sinewy muscles. He scrubbed at his short-cropped hair, shaking the sandy grit out of it. “Is it any coincidence, my lord,” he said, accepting his spectacles from a groom, and placing them precisely, “that you ended the tussle just as I had you in a headlock?”

A horse in the stable whinnied, as if appreciating the jest.

“Don’t flatter yourself, my fine fellow. I was letting you gain confidence. I would have snapped any other man’s arm like a twig.” Darkefell flexed, shrugging the tension out of his thickly muscled shoulders. There was no doubt that what he said was true, though it did not answer whether he could have gotten out of the headlock by fair means, rather than foul. “But I have had enough of this for now. Tomorrow, same time,” he shouted over his shoulder as he grabbed his shirt from a nail on the stable door, pulled it on over his head, and flung himself away from the yard, striding toward the modern section of the castle.

Osei watched him go just as Mr. Posthumous Jones, the Darkefell Castle estate steward, rode into the stable yard on his gentle bay mare. The fellow slipped down from his saddle, clutching a fist full of letters, and joined Osei, both men watching the marquess stride away. “He’s not yet recovered from his disappointment with Lady Anne, has he?” the steward said.

“No,” Osei replied, turning to Jones, a paunchy but neatly dressed man. “He is deeply angered over the rejection, if that is what happened in their last meeting. He will not speak of what she said, but I know he expected to have her agreement to wed him before he left Cornwall. It has been two weeks and he is still incensed.”

“She must have said no, then, surely?”

“I suppose. However, I know the lady; she is not indifferent to him, but he must be patient with her.” Osei pondered it a moment, then went on, as a groom led the steward’s bay away to the stable: “Patience is not an attribute the marquess has cultivated, nor has he had any need of it before now. Given how reluctantly he surrendered his heart to the maiden, I think it will be much time before he feels he has it back. He is not one to give it lightly.”