Sleight of Heart

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A vampire mage, a Romani young man, and a love that won't be denied.

Lord Taliesin Solitaire was born albino, cursed mute by the fey, and betrayed by a vampire lover. For two hundred years the vampire mage has vowed never to love again and has only used sex as a means to a meal. Until a palm-reading gypsy finds himself in peril and Taliesin can’t resist rescuing the beautiful young man.

Pesha Sinclair is the eldest but smallest son of King Vaida Sinclair, the oppressive ruler of the Kåle Romani Compania. Deemed impure by his father, Pesha is shunned and mistreated by his band and four half-brothers, and one brother in particular wants him dead. His pale, silent savior gives him safety, security and a love he never could have imagined. As Pesha falls in love with his handsome white knight, his half-brother does the unthinkable.

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

~*~

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 woolen cloak no matter the climate to hide his appearance and shield his sensitive lavender eyes. But 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 attentionsand was thankful that his aristocratic pulchritude 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 his large blue eyes, of course.
Although the humans’ acceptance of preternaturals made life easier for him, 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 entrusted 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 evening. There was the old French jongleur with his farcical enactments, fabliaux, 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 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 favored 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 favored 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 at first then won the man over with a witty quip. 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 bejeweled 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 floppy curls, the gems across his forehead barely noticeable under the floppy curls. His eyes returned to the young man’s bare feet, and he narrowed his keen vision again. The pads of his inordinately small feet were not only devoid of the calluses one might expect, but were clean. The young man idly tinkered with his hands. As with his feet, they were inordinately small but bore unusually thick fingers. Strong fingers, he thought. He imagined them caressing his body then chastised himself for his overactive imagination. Gods, was it possible he was so enamored of the gypsy as to find his hands and feet alluring?

Pesha Sinclair pretended not to notice the tall, pale man who watched him. All the gådže 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 gådžo.
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 from his hands. 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 crumble 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 still as a statue. Was it longing he saw in the young man's eyes? Surely not. Yet the heat 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 young 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, kuštilo, xindo gådžo!” 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 him lightly on 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 gådžo, 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 arms’ 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 gådže 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 realized 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 gådžo 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, that was a good idea. He didn’t want his knight left alone on the boardwalk in the event the xindo gådžo 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 dača, he was going to faint if he didn’t do something other than stand here. Without thinking 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 called as he 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 the 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 gypsy didn’t know that. Perhaps he thought he was doing a favor. 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, come!” the gypsy insisted.
Taliesin stepped forward and retrieved his cloak, and in doing so realized just how small he was in contrast to his own six foot two. The gypsy was smaller than he thought, shorter than a normal man's height by far. Taliesin motioned for the 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 back seat 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 gypsy’s eyes. The young man canted his head ever so slightly as if in unspoken inquiry. Seeming to read Taliesin’s unvarnished need, the beautiful 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 goodbye 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 gypsy’s actions were merely those of polite Romani custom.
The old Russian spied him through his 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 a grown man, you know? Where you want to go beautiful man?”
His hopes somewhat renewed, Taliesin hand 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 he could, he thought wryly.



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