HER GYPSY PRINCE
Silhouette Romance #1789
Blossom County Fair
A while ago, one of my writing friends, Teresa Carpenter (Special Edition and Romance), came up with a great premise: what can happen when a carnival comes to a small Texas town? As you know, the carnival offers all kinds of romantic and fun possibilities-especially if you're me and you're immediately thinking about a carny "bad boy" who falls for the town's "good girl." The setting was irresistible, and even though I don't normally write for Silhouette Romance, I had to do this. And when I tell you that more friends-Judy Duarte (Special Edition) and Jill Limber (Romance and Intimate Moments)-rounded out the series line up, you'll understand why I seized this one-time opportunity! I love to explore different genres anyway: I've published family and community stories for Silhouette Special Edition, steamy tales for Harlequin Blaze, action-adventure for Silhouette Bombshell, and I'm working on an upcoming trilogy for Berkley , a "noir fantasy-mystery" series called Vampire Underground. The Blossom County continuity for Silhouette Romance really allowed me to "get innocent" with my take on Romeo meets Juliet. I hope you have a great time as the action in Blossom County rushes to a finale..
The first time bad-boy carny Carlo Fuentes lays eyes on Elizabeth Dupres, the golden girl of Blossom County , their worlds collide in an explosion of hearts and yearning. But, in spite of their innocent love, how can these star-crossed lovers keep Carlo's mysterious past from tearing them apart?
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Excerpt from HER GYPSY PRINCE
Just before closing time, Elizabeth found herself in the shadows of the carnival, standing near the flaps of the belly dancing tent on the midway, watching scantily clad twins undulate their bellies in front of wide-eyed men.
She was such a lost cause.
Still, she glanced around for the man she'd seen on the Ferris wheel earlier today, longed for just a peek of his daredevil smile. But all she saw were clots of teenagers eating cotton candy and heading for the Scrambler. Out-of-towners who'd traveled from the surrounding dry counties in order to enjoy the very wet Blossom County Fair's beer garden.
This was ridiculous, sneaking around, playing out an impossible crush that barely existed. She really shouldn't be here.
Before Elizabeth left, she couldn't resist one more glimpse at the dancers. The sinuous music slid around her senses, and she wondered what it'd be like to move that way around a man, tempting him, inviting him to see underneath her sheer façade of school-teacher primness.
Would the Ferris wheel man watch her as he had yesterday, with intense yearning? A hint of something more? Something Elizabeth had never experienced in her sheltered life.
When a deep, familiar voice spoke from the nearby darkness, Elizabeth almost jumped, hand to her stuttering heart.
"Picket line's due south of here," he said.
The unscarred half of his face was lit by light from the tent, so Elizabeth could see he was grinning, probably amused that she was too shy to step foot into the show.
She realized she was beaming right back at him, incredibly happy that he'd found her.
Did that mean he'd been looking?
What should she say to him? Her mind whirred with the need to invent something that wouldn't make her sound like she'd come here just to see him.
"How's the cut?" she blurted. "You know. The one on your face?"
You know, she mocked herself, wanting to smack her head. The one you got when my friend Spencer clobbered you? The one next to that long scar that absolutely screams "scary but exciting"?
Graceful it was not, but the question lured him farther into the light. He stood before her, smelling of musk and something as exotic as the dancing inside that tent. Tall. Very, very tall. And.oh, really gorgeous in a rough way. His smile enchanted the tar out of her.
He lightly gestured to the cut Spencer had given him earlier at the altercation between the townsfolk and the carnies. It was barely even there now. "I'm a quick healer. Did you come here just to check up on me?"
"Because I thought your do-gooder group wasn't allowed to visit us. I should think it would go against your philosophy of despising us bad elements."
"You'd think." Elizabeth nodded, trying to make her words as slow and careful as possible. Of course, she was running the chance that he would believe she was dim, but it was better than bursting out with her true feelings. "You could argue that if I don't visit the carnival, I don't really have an idea of what we're protesting out there on the picket lines. But now I know what I'm up against."
So, clearly she had a great reason for being here.
Boy, she was so bad at this strangers-in-the-night talk. She'd never been this electrified around a guy before. It was terrifying, making her think she had no say over herself, that she would start bouncing off solid objects any moment because she was so keyed up.
No wonder she'd never been with a man before. Curse of the virgin.
He still seemed highly entertained by her, his silver-blue eyes flashing with mirth.
Oh, somebody save her.
"Well," she said, just to kill the silence between them. The carnival music seemed much too loud, provoking more anxiety. "Glad to see you're recovering."
He just laughed, glanced at the ground, then right back up at her from underneath his brows, acknowledging how much of a struggle she was having here.
"I don't know your name," he said softly.
Elizabeth willed herself to talk, but she couldn't.
Holding out his hand, he rescued her. "Carlo Fuentes."
She looked at it like he'd offered her a sizzling firecracker that would take her fingers right off. And, when she reached out to clasp his grip, that's sure what it felt like.
She swallowed. "Elizabeth Dupres."
They didn't shake on it, merely allowed the contact to linger. His skin was calloused, foreign against the pampered softness of her own.
They held each other so long that the handshake ceased to mean anything. Or maybe it meant too much now.
Embarrassed by the intimacy of such a simple gesture, she removed her hand and crossed her arms over her chest. Such a dork.
"And what's your boyfriend's name?" he asked. "You know, the one who took the cheap shot at me?"
She couldn't deny that. "Spencer Cahill. But he's not.my boyfriend."
"He's just got too many hormones rampaging around that superhero body of his. You were the most convenient way to spend them."
Carlo took a step closer, and she gasped.
"Can't blame him for wanting to protect you."
A flurry of tambourines sounded from inside the belly dancing tent. The subdued lighting filtered over Elizabeth 's face like a pure blush. Now that they weren't in the middle of a skirmish, Carlo could take time to dwell on the details of her: the long brows, the thick golden lashes surrounding slightly tilted eyes, the full lower lip and a dainty cleft in her chin. She had worn her hair long, and it waved down her back, inviting him to run his hands over it.
But he didn't dare. Even if his body was furnacing out of control, he wouldn't touch an outsider. Getting closer wasn't any different from stepping into town limits, and he knew what that would get him.
Still, he could tell that Elizabeth was one of those "good girls," a bright-eyed debutante who toyed with the idea of a carny who earned his pay through sweat and "manly" work. What she didn't realize yet was that he was only a guy who'd been glorified by cut-rate B movies and romantic fantasies spun from the minds of bored women. He encountered Elizabeths at every stop.
But he usually did a much better job of resisting them.
Earlier, he'd been overseeing ride operations when he had seen her loitering near this tent. One more flirty encounter would do no harm, he'd told himself.
But that's not what his body was telling him. Even the useless lump of coal in his chest was chiming in with warnings of heat and danger.
"You'll be picketing again tomorrow?" he asked, needing to get to safer ground, to remove himself a little.
"I'm not out there every day."
She frowned, but the expression was so fleeting Carlo barely caught it.
"Just out of curiosity, can I ask why you do it?"
"Why I'm picketing? Well.. It's complicated."
"For us carnies, yeah. Your Committee for Moral Behavior does make things complicated." He grinned again, letting her know he could care less about the group.
Another of her frowns twisted at his gut, making his stomach go slightly off balance.
A ride on a roller coaster, he thought.
"The CMB isn't all bad," she said, sounding so wistful that Carlo wanted to touch her, to absorb some of that purity he'd lost years ago.
She continued. "They're genuinely concerned about the quality of life in Blossom. When crime started inching into our lives, they decided to take a stand."
He didn't comment on how she was using the word "they" over and over. It was more telling than any explanation.
"Do you really think carnies are at the root of all the town's problems?" he asked. "Are we that awful?"
She tucked a strand of hair behind an ear, almost drawing his attention away from the slow gaze she ran up his body, from head to foot.
Warmth washed over him, a hunger so powerful that he almost fell to his knees in front of her.
Had she done that on purpose?
No. Based on her non-reaction, she hadn't been aware of what he'd usually term a "get on over here, big boy" glance.
"You're not all bad," she said softly, her words barely covering the carnival tunes, the tent music. "It's just that the Swindle."
"I'm aware of it." The comment came out gruffer than he'd intended.
He was still recovering from her unknowing come on.
She straightened up, peered inside the tent again, probably to avoid the tension between them. "At any rate, you don't seem too evil." When she looked back at him, hope brimmed over in her gaze. "Are you?"
Carlo could only chuff at that. If only she knew.
He moved away a few feet, the expectation in her eyes digging into him. "Go home, Elizabeth , before someone on your committee catches you here."
"It was nice meeting you, even for just a night." He started to walk away.
The sound of her voice wrapping around his name halted him. He imagined her gentle, cupped hands holding his essence, sheltering him like a nest holding a wounded eagle.
When he didn't answer, she spoke again.
She sounded so forlorn. It was all he could do to stop himself from turning back around and dragging her against his body to show her how bad he really could be.
Yet, instead of looking at her again, he resumed his pace, telling himself that his memories of a woman in a flowered sundress standing in the light of a carnival tent would be enough.
One sleepless night later, he admitted to himself that it wasn't.
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From the book: Her Gypsy Prince
By: Crystal Green
Imprint and Series: Silhouette Romance
Publication Date: 10/05
By: Chris Marie Green
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The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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