To start from the beginning, find the prologue here
The sun stretched lazily across the town square, spilling morning light into every corner when the door to Darren’s cottage creaked open. The gypsy girl glided across the threshold to join the men around the fire. She slid into Darren’s open arms and kissed him softly.
Seth turned away, uncomfortable. It was one thing to want to kiss a girl. It was quite another to watch your older brother do it. The rest of the men stared openly.
Darren cleared his throat and searched through the women in the square. “Where’s that sister of ours, anyway? I want Kira to meet her and I haven’t seen her since--” He trailed off, suddenly unsure of when the last time was that he’d seen her.
Kira almost jumped. “Your… sister?” she asked, too innocently.
“Briana. You’ve never met her before, have you?”
“No,” she said slowly. “I might have seen her from afar the other night, though. At the well.”
“That’s odd,” Darren muttered. “I wonder what she was doing there. Was she with anyone?”
Kira winced. “I think she was with… my brother.”
“Your BROTHER?? And she’s not been back? Why didn’t you say something last night??” he demanded.
Kira leveled him with a sardonic glance. “We were a little busy.”
Darren jumped to his feet and began pacing, muttering to himself. “I told her to stay away from him. And now she’s gone and gotten herself kidnapped by that—“
“She seemed to be going willingly,” she interrupted. “I’m not sure that he kidnapped her.”
He waved that away and turned to Seth. “Brother, welcome to manhood. Come on, we’re getting our sister back.” With that, he turned on his heel, leaving Kira standing open-mouthed in front of the cottage.
“What will we do when we get there?” Seth asked, as they crossed the bridge. “What if they have Bri tied up somewhere?”
“We’ll manage,” came the grim reply.
“But what if they have weapons?” the younger brother persisted.
Darren stopped and said quietly, “You and Briana are my family. You are the only family I have left.” He clapped a hand heavily onto Seth’s shoulder. “I would do anything necessary to keep you safe.”
Nodding, Seth continued on in silence. As they reached the outskirts of the gypsy camp, they paused behind cover of foliage to peer inside. Five wagons surrounded a campfire that still burned low from the morning’s breakfast. The camp was mostly deserted, save for a lone woman who flitted from one spot to another like a little bird, picking up pottery here and dropping it into the washing basin there. She was singing quietly to herself, a gentle smile at her lips. She looked extremely familiar, but nothing at all like a kidnapped victim.
Darren strode into the camp. “Briana,” he said conversationally. “Interesting to see you here.”
Briana whirled around, surprise in her eyes. “Darren! Oh Darren, you shouldn’t be here. You know what happens when you two occupy the same…” She sought for the right word, “continent.”
Darren’s lips twitched. “Can I help it if he makes me want to hit things? Or him? You know, I’d heard that my little sister had been seen in the company of the Gypsy King, and I thought ‘Well, that can’t be right. I’ve told her time and time and time again to stay away from that wretched thieving nuisance. She wouldn’t possibly defy me and actually go off with him.’ Naturally, I assumed you’d been kidnapped and taken against your will.” The cheerfulness faded from his tone and he demanded, “We’re here to correct that. We’re going home.”
Darren turned on his heel, nodding at his younger brother, and stalked quickly out of the camp, Seth hopping to keep up with him. Seth looked behind them, and nudged Darren’s shoulder. Briana hadn’t moved. They returned slowly to the campfire and Darren fixed his sister with a stony glare. “Is there a reason you’re still here?”
“I’m not going,” Briana said simply.
“Oh? Have you decided to take up a life of thievery too?”
“Darren, please. Sit,” she gestured to a log around the campfire. “I don’t know to explain it to you, Darren. When he looks at me, he makes me feel like I am the only woman in the world. And when he touches me—“ Briana paused. This was perhaps not the best tactic to take with her brother. “He just makes me feel safe and loved and cared for. He listens to me. And I—I think I love him.”
Darren sighed and dropped his head into his hands.
She dropped to her knees and put a hand on his arm. “Darren, I just want to be happy. Can’t you understand that? He makes me happy.”
He looked up into her eyes. “If I ever hear of him laying so much as a finger on you in anger, I kill him. Understand?”
A smile of joy broke out over Briana’s face and she threw her arms around her brother. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t make me regret it,” Darren responded gruffly.
Kira watched Darren and Seth return from the bridge with trepidation. They were alone. “Was she not there?” she asked with forced lightness as they approached her.
“She was there,” was Darren’s reply. “She just wouldn’t come back.”
Kira kicked a pebble at her feet. What should she say? Good? I’m sorry? At least there’ll be more room in the cottage? But she was saved from the need to respond when Darren reached for her and buried his face in her hair.
“I just feel like I failed them,” he whispered. “I promised my parents I would take care of her.”
Kira pulled back and laid her palm against his cheek. “You’ve done that, Darren. I know you don’t like my brother, and I guess I don’t blame you. But, he’ll be good to her. He loves her.”
“Loves her?” Darren was skeptical. “How would you know that?”
She smiled. “He’s stolen more of her laundry off the line behind your cottage than everything else he’s ever stolen combined. Trust me.”