The Tin Rose
The Tin Rose
An evening escape.
A clockwork poison.
A race to save a love balanced on the edge.
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On the night they were to elope, a spurned lover returned. A gift, she claimed. But the clockwork contraption unwound a poisonous bloom, sending Lady Emily and Luca, her beloved, on a desperate race to reach the cure.
Also available on these retailers:
- A Young Lady
- Her Romani Lover
- An Elopement
- A Jealous Woman
- A Gathering Storm
Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
The Dover Coast
Would she come?
As the first rays of the setting sun struck the gleaming windows of Knowlton House, Luca stood beside the sole remaining campfire, one hand clutching a handful of viridis powder ready to cast it into the flames. If all went as planned, his bride would soon abandon the only life she’d ever known, trading it all for a new one among the Roma. With him. At last, he would feel whole.
That is, if they’d not been discovered by her father, the Duke of Avesbury. The man had eyes everywhere, and with a single word in a carefully chosen ear, he could throw a wrench into all their plans.
Luca smoothed down the front of his indigo waistcoat, the only one he possessed that hadn’t been patched or darned.
What Emily saw in him—a gypsy with a knack for fixing enormous balance plows and a side talent for crafting clockwork creatures, both pragmatic and frivolous—he’d never understand. To the manor she was born, but aspired to trade polished silver spoons and fine silk gowns for brass and rough wool. And him. Her love humbled him.
He’d made a few weak attempts to discourage her notions, but in the end selfishness won. Besides, she was of age, and he would not deny her the freedom to choose the life she wished.
And so tonight they leapt into the future, together. Consequences be damned.
Already the rumble of the other vardos—gypsy caravans—grew distant, muffled by the evening hum and buzz of insects. His finest clockwork horse, Tesio, was hitched to his grandmother’s vardo, its springs wound tight in anticipation of the journey ahead. Their exit from her family’s country estate would be silent and swift and—aether willing—unnoticed.
Tomorrow, the duke and duchess would wake to find their daughter gone, deserting the very house party they hosted with the express intent of finding Emily a blue-blooded husband. A husband they no doubt hoped would put an end to her association with the old gypsy herbalist. And him. Would they touch a match to tinder and mount a furious pursuit of their daughter? Or would they silently ink her name from the family records? Not that it mattered. She would be his, and he would not surrender her without a fight.
A dark silhouette appeared in a window of the great hall. Though indistinct at this distance, the feminine form stood with determined anticipation. His heart leapt. It could only be Emily.
A gust of wind blew through the leaves of the nearby trees. In the distance, storm clouds gathered to blot out the navigation lights of silver dirigibles making their way to and from Captain Oglethorpe’s great boarding towers at Dover. He took a deep breath, steadying his mind. It was time.
Time to turn the fire green and call his bride. But as he lifted his shaking hand toward the fire, a familiar form slid from the door of Grandmother’s vardo. How had he missed her return to camp? Distaste crept over his skin, but he forced himself to meet her gaze. Nothing good ever came of Rayka’s presence. Luca let the viridis powder slide between his fingers to the ground in hopes she would not notice, but her sharp ears caught the soft hiss of sand as it fell.
“Second thoughts about stealing away?” Rayka sauntered to his side, exaggerating each step to make the various metal trinkets slung about her hips jingle. A traveling night, yet she dressed to dance? “I can’t say that anyone would hold it against you. You’ll forever be a fugitive, the gypsy boy who kidnapped his bride.” She fanned her fingers and stretched a sinuous arm toward the flames before spinning a quick turn upon her toes to flare her full skirts. “Ruined, they call it when a nobleman compromises a noblewoman.” Her voice taunted. The flickering light of the flames tossed shifting shadows across her features. “What do they call it when a gypsy does the same? A crime. You’ll be lucky not to hang.”
“Rayka, always a bright spot in the darkness. What business with my grandmother keeps you from joining your family?”
Once they’d been friends. Once his father considered her a potential bride for his son. Once she’d been his grandmother’s only apprentice, sole successor to all her herbal lore. Then lightning struck.
Years ago, Emily had first traipsed into the gypsy camp on the heels of her brother Ned. Though he visited to consult with a gypsy clockwork master, Emily arrived with an apron brimming with wildflowers and a mind full of endless botanical questions, to the great delight of his grandmother. She soon won herself a place as his grandmother’s second pupil.
At the time, she was nothing but a silly, little girl. But time passed and after one particularly long winter, Emily had arrived back in their encampment with the same bright blue eyes and wide smile—but with all new curves. He’d done his best not to stare, but Rayka caught the direction of his furtive glances and grew bitter and resentful.
Now, she lifted her chin and her dark eyes flashed. “I came to tell her I’ve found a new mentor in another tribe.”
The night Luca’s father had gifted Emily with pliashka, placing a necklace of coins about her neck, a formal acceptance of her as a bride, Rayka had disappeared. No one had seen her since.
“You don’t need to leave us,” Luca said softly. Tradition dictated Romani women stay with their families until they took a husband. To leave was tantamount to exile.
“Impossible. She stole your affections from me,” her gaze darted toward his grandmother’s vardo, “and I’ll not cede my status to a gadji.” Drawing a single finger slowly across the base of her throat, she spun backward out of the circle of light. “Choosing such a bride is a mistake you’ll soon regret.”
Worry slithered into his stomach and tied a knot. “What have you done?”
“I left behind a token of my esteem.” The bitter words fell from her lips like drops of acid. “Goodbye, Luca.”
A sharp cry echoed in the night.
Puri daj! Grandmother!
He lunged for Rayka, his hand fisting about a flounce of her skirts. “Answer me.”
“Time runs out,” she mocked. “Slipping away like sand through an hourglass. A few hours, no more.” Firelight glinted off a blade, and the cloth he held fell limp in his hand. He let it fall to the dirt as she disappeared into the shadows, calling over her shoulder. “Best hurry!”
The hard leather of his soles crunched over stones and dirt as he ran for the vardo. With two strides he mounted the stairs and threw open the door. A crude metal box lay upon the floor, its lid thrown wide. Discordant notes plucked out upon a rotating metal cylinder played a sinister tune as spring-driven gears turned, unfurling a jointed and rusty vine. His stomach clenched in recognition and ice slid down his spine, for at its end bloomed a tin rose. The very same bloom stolen from his workbox several weeks ago.
“Careful,” his grandmother warned from the dark corner into which she’d retreated. “It is marhime.” Impure.
Muttering under his breath and minding the thorns, Luca reached out, catching the stem between his thumb and forefinger to draw it carefully away from her.
He squinted at the vine in the lamplight. Thorns with hollow points were slotted into a still-writhing vine that was coated with a faint—and glowing—liquid sheen. Tiny hairs on the back of his neck rose. Every instinct screamed ‘poison’ as the twisted perversion of his own design continued to grow, coiling toward his arm, resisting every attempt to return it to its case.
A gust of wind rocked the vardo and the vine sprang free. Pain raced along nerve endings as razor sharp thorns sliced into his skin of his palm. Cursing, he stuffed the aggravating vine and its dull rose back into the box. He slammed the lid closed, ignoring the slight tingle in his fingertips.
“Did it touch you?” he asked her.
“No.” His grandmother waved at the basin of water. “Hurry. Wash your hands. I should never have accepted her gift.”
He scrubbed away the blood and lathered his hands with soap, recalling the old adage ‘the dose makes the poison’. He prayed Rayka meant only to injure, not to kill. But his now-pounding heart filled him with dread.
Grandmother clutched at his hand, clucking her tongue at the multitude of tiny slashes that now marked his palm, and reached for a bandage. The odd tingling grew stronger and an unpleasant numbness overtook his thumb, but a new, chilling fear had congealed in his mind.
“The fire,” he said. “I never threw the viridis powder to call Emily.”
Sweat broke out across his forehead. Rayka had been dressed to perform and where else could she be headed but the manor. His heart gave a great thud. Bent on revenge, what might she do to Emily?
He yanked his hand away. “I need to go. Now.”
Turning, he bolted from the vardo.
A short story filled with adventure and romance, it's a one-bite tale without the on-page spice of Anne Renwick's full length books. I liked how this story expands the world by giving us a glimpse into Emily's story, the sister who appears in The Golden Spider.