Love, mystery and desire under the scorching Spanish sun. A young writer becomes entangled in an illicit gypsy love affair, pulling her into a world of secrets, deception and dark desire. Summer, 1976. Luz de Rueda returns to her beloved Spain and takes a job as the biographer of a famous artist. On her first day back in Cádiz, she encounters a bewitching, passionate young gypsy, Leandro, who immediately captures her heart, even though relationships with his kind are taboo. Haunted by this forbidden love, she meets her new employer, the sophisticated Andrés de Calderón. Reserved yet darkly compelling, he is totally different to Leandro but almost the gypsy’s double. Both men stir unfamiliar and exciting feelings in Luz, although mystery and danger surround them in ways she has still to discover.
Hannah Fielding was born and grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, the granddaughter of Esther Fanous, a revolutionary feminist and writer in Egypt during the early 1900s. Upon graduating with a BA in French literature from Alexandria University she travelled extensively throughout Europe and lived in Switzerland, France and England. After marrying her English husband, she settled in Kent and subsequently had little time for writing while bringing up two children, looking after dogs and horses, and running her own business renovating rundown cottages. Hannah now divides her time between her homes in England, Ireland and the South of France. She has written four novels, Indiscretion and Masquerade (the first two titles in the Andalucían Nights Trilogy), Burning Embers, and The Echoes of Love. Hannah’s books have won various awards including, Gold Medal for romance at the Independent Publisher Book Awards (The Echoes of Love), and Gold and Silver Medals for romance at the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards (Indiscretion and Masquerade). Indiscretion has also won Best Romance at the USA Best Book Awards.
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Excerpt of Masquerade
By Hannah Fielding
She found the fairground without any difficulty. The hilly route she took was hot and dusty with no merciful shade. At last, though, the road fell away and the old forge appeared in the near distance on the edge of a scrubby plain; a matter of minutes and she would be there. As she approached the site she could hear the low, continuous, rumbling murmur of the gypsy gathering, like the raging winds that thundered over the coast on stormy nights. The commotion held numerous sounds. There was the resonating clamour of speech and laughter; the whinnying of excited horses stamping their hooves and the clanking of the brass ornaments on their harnesses as they shook their beautiful manes. There was the barking of dogs and the rattling noise of their chains as they pulled on them. And now, as the camp came into view, there was the distinctive, heavy pounding of her heartbeat filling her ears.
The scene was humming with life. Under the fire of the sun a rainbow tapestry of people, beasts and inanimate objects mingled in happy, organised chaos. Mules and donkeys mingled with goats and pigs, braying, bleating and squealing as children ran around whooping and chasing each other with catapults. Men led horses round on ropes while others gesticulated on the merits of a particular beast as they huddled in groups, smoking cigarettes and grunting their approval or rejection. The chaláns, the gypsy horse dealers, with their bronzed faces and broad-brimmed felt hats presided over the buying and selling of every beast under the shade of a huge wooden shed roof. They stood in front of a bigger crowd who shouted things back at them in Caló. Men and women chatted and laughed behind stalls of food, copper pans, bright clothes and baskets. There was even a barrel-organ player, grinning toothlessly and nodding along to his music as some gypsies clapped and danced, or swigged from glasses of manzanilla. The air was a heady mix of smells: earth, sweat, dung, tobacco and strong coffee.
At first Luz was overwhelmed by it all; but as she slipped through the crowd and roamed around the stalls, feasting her eyes on this colourful and mysterious world, she began to enjoy herself.
She had almost forgotten what she had come for when she spotted him in a group of men gathered under the shed roof. He was accompanied by the lanky, tattooed youth she had seen with him on the beach. His back was to Luz and he was busy arguing with the owner of a beautiful horse, explaining his meaning with animated gestures. He was dressed in a faded olive-green vest and washed-out black Bermuda shorts, a dark scarf around his throat. Despite his slim build, his whole body was the picture of vitality and strength. When looking at him, the words ‘tall’, ‘lean’ and ‘energetic’ came to mind. Luz’s gaze lingered on his bare arms and thighs, which were evenly tanned and knotted with muscles. He had held her in those arms against his powerful chest and she had been unconscious: how infuriating! She wondered what it would be like to live the life of a wild gypsy. Luz felt herself blush as sensual, unfamiliar images invaded her mind and delicious warm sensations flooded her body. What was wrong with her? Never in her whole life had she been subjected to such unbelievable inner mayhem. It must be the heat, she thought. She had read somewhere that the sun sometimes did strange things to a person.
His friend was the first to notice her. He nudged Leandro and whispered something in his ear. Leandro turned to look over his shoulder and she felt the strength of his magnetic stare. He nodded in acknowledgement of her and smiled, then returned to his business, shaking his head at the owner of the horse: no deal. The seller said something. Leandro yawned, shrugged his shoulders and scratched his head, then his chin. Finally he laughed, shook hands with the trader and came towards Luz, pulling the beautiful animal behind him. The deal was done after all.
‘Buenas tardes, señorita,’ he greeted her courteously as he drew nearer. ‘Que me han traíde suerte, you’ve brought me luck,’ he declared, his glittering eyes arresting hers with an enigmatic stare. He raked long, slender fingers through his unruly shock of shiny dark hair. For the first time she had a clear view of him. He was around her own age, she guessed, though something about him seemed older somehow. Under the two-day stubble his narrow face had a golden darkness, different to the usual rougher gypsy tan, with a pronounced bone structure and regular features. It was highlighted by the deep green of his irises that watched her now between thick black eyelashes with a strange remoteness. He glanced casually behind him before returning his gaze to her. ‘You have to be doubly careful at these fairs. Some dealers can make you believe that oranges grow on cactus trees.’ His voice had a gypsy cadence to it that she did not find unattractive. This was certainly not the measured, sophisticated drawl of Andrés de Calderón.
Luz laughed, mustering up enough courage not to run away and hide. ‘I’ve been meaning to thank you for taking care of me after my fall and returning me safely home. It was very kind of you.’
‘You were hurt, what else could I do?’
She thought she glimpsed a spark of something in his eyes: frustration, anger, impatience, but then it was gone and his expression became unreadable again.
‘Still, not everyone would have been so … gallant,’ she stammered, trying to find the right word. As she said it, she thought of him delivering her directly to her bedroom and felt her face warm at the suggestion of just how gallant he had been.
As if reading her mind he looked down at her and gave a slow, mischievous smile.
‘This is true. But we gypsies can be honourable, too.’ Green eyes glittered at her with amusement as he lowered his face closer to hers and added, ‘Or did you think we were all rogues and bandits, perhaps?’
‘Of course not, I didn’t mean to …’
‘But I see you’re fully recovered,’ he interrupted, straightening up. His gaze travelled over her in a way that made her insides blaze and melt at the same time.
‘Yes, I slept well and felt fine the next morning, thank you.’
‘Your bed is very comfortable, that always helps.’ His voice was low and provocative.
Luz’s eyes widened. ‘You were …’ was all she could manage as the heat deepened in her cheeks.
He laughed. ‘Don’t look so shocked, señorita. I laid you down on your bed, that’s all. As I told you, we gypsies are honourable, though you would sorely test any man’s control, I think.’
She blinked rapidly, telling herself to concentrate. He was standing close enough for her to reach out and touch him and although she yearned to, she would never have dared. Men did not normally have this effect on her and her heart was thundering in her chest as though she had just finished a run on the beach.
‘And are all gypsies so forward?’
‘No, just me … and only with you.’ He flashed a grin and began stroking the side of his horse absentmindedly. ‘Do you often ride on the beach?’
Luz noticed the way the smooth muscles in his arm flexed as his hand moved up and down the creature. She swallowed before saying, ‘Yes, most days. I love the sea air and the exercise.’
He nodded, wicked humour still alight in his bright green eyes, which remained fixed on Luz’s. ‘Exercise is good. What other exercise do you enjoy, señorita?’ His gaze darkened and flicked down to her mouth before settling back on her eyes.
Luz felt an involuntary quiver in a strange and uncharted place deep in her belly. He was flirting outrageously and she found it intoxicating. ‘I often swim, too. Do you swim?’ she found herself saying, huskily.
An eyebrow arched. ‘Yes, of course – we are sea gypsies. I should take you swimming one day, I think we would both like it. You can race me. Though I warn you, you wouldn’t win.’
‘You think not? I was on our school swim team,’ she answered, still trying to control her breathy voice. Suddenly she realized that she hadn’t even introduced herself. ‘By the way, my name is Luz. Doña Luz de Rueda.’
‘Yes, I know.’ He lifted an eyebrow and gave a lazy, enigmatic smile. ‘So why is a girl like you alone at the horse fair, Doña Luz de Rueda?’ He pulled gently on the reins of his stallion as it snorted and tossed its head.
Luz was distracted from the fact that he already knew her name and was more concerned about how to explain her appearance there. She could not possibly admit that she had gone there solely to find him, and yet the fairground was too out of the way to pretend she had just been out for a walk.
‘I heard the fair was on at the moment and I’ve always wanted to see it for myself. Your horse is beautiful, I’m quite envious.’
He was about to answer when two young gitanas came out of nowhere, joining their little group.
‘Oh, Leandro, what have you got there?’ said one as she trailed her hand over the horse’s chestnut coat. ‘He’s a beauty!’
‘Indeed, he’s quite a find,’ Leandro agreed, his well-defined mouth breaking into a satisfied smile. He patted the creature’s flank and stared at Luz for a brief moment before looking away.
‘You’re so clever, you have a real business talent,’ the other gypsy girl told him in a sugary tone, sliding an arm around his waist possessively and cuddling up to him. Her flame-coloured hair framed a striking face and there was a boldness about her that Luz found slightly vulgar.
‘Rosa, you flatter me, as always. But yes, it’s true,’ he shrugged, grinning impishly.
Leandro obviously had a large fan club, Luz noted. Feeling distinctly de trop, she started to turn but he caught her eye. The gypsy gave her a fleeting glance as if he was pretending not to notice her but something flickered in his expression that she couldn’t interpret. Did he recognize her discomfort? Was that a glance of understanding or sudden dismissal now that he had a new female audience? Whatever he was thinking, Luz sensed that the circle now excluded her. She felt like she’d been cast aside, but was determined no one would see such emotion betrayed by her face.
A rigid smile touched her lips as she moved away, leaving the three gypsies engrossed in a lively conversation about the newly bought horse. Luz held her chin up, but knives cruelly pierced her heart. All her unrealistic dreams were crumbling into a pile of cinders. Her imagination, not normally quite so febrile, had spun a web of romantic fantasies in which she was now caught. The wretchedness that consumed her now was not the gypsy’s fault, but all of her own making, she told herself. From the very first moment she had laid eyes on Leandro, she had been wrong; in her head she had fabricated his interest and misjudged the situation all along. Now, she had only herself to blame.
The air had grown cooler. In different circumstances Luz would have enjoyed the walk back, but as it was, her thoughts weighed heavily on her, making her head hang down. She was weary and humiliated. What had possessed her to act in such a foolhardy way? she pondered miserably. Perhaps Leandro had always been out to make fun of her. Dimly, she could hear her parents’ warnings to keep away from gypsies. Only the other day her father had told her that the gitanos were fond of tricks. Why had she not taken heed of those wise words?
‘My beautiful red roses, my lovely-smelling roses, who will buy? Fair lady, gracious señorita, why are you so sad?’
Luz jumped, jerked out of her sombre thoughts. A gitana dressed all in black was accosting her at the side of the road with a bunch of blood-red roses, which she clutched tightly in her long brown fingers, despite the spiky thorns. She had come right up to Luz, her dark hawkish eyes peering inquisitively into the young woman’s face. Luz shook her head politely and tried to move on, doing her best to ignore the flower seller.
‘Let me help you, let me make things better,’ the gypsy persisted, close on Luz’s heels. ‘Believe me, I have the remedy. Today he doesn’t love you, tomorrow with this talisman he will be unable to live without you.’
‘Leave me alone, thank you. I’ve no money on me, so just go away,’ Luz told her, accelerating her step. Perhaps fate was laughing at her, too.
‘I do not want any money, fair lady,’ the gypsy said sharply as she caught the young woman’s arm, forcing her to halt, the gold and silver bracelets clinking on her arms as she did so. She then coughed slightly and ran the back of her hand over her mouth. For the first time Luz looked into the gitana’s face. She was a fine-looking woman, with large, blazing, charcoal pupils fixed keenly on the young woman’s eyes. Brass hoop earrings pushed through her blue-black curly hair, which was obviously dyed and fell well below her shoulders in thick unruly locks. Her face was heavily made-up and Luz found it difficult to guess her age, but it was clear that while she must have been a great beauty in her youth, life had not been kind. There was an ashen pallor to her complexion underneath the make-up.
Exasperated, Luz sighed. ‘So if it’s not money you’re looking for, what is it you want?’
‘I have taken a shine to you, hermosa jovencita. You remind me of the daughter I lost through sickness when she was still a blooming flower,’ she said, switching to a whimpering tone. ‘I want to help you, you seem so sad. Here, take this talisman and wear it underneath your clothes,’ she went on with urgency, as she tried to press a tiny package into the young woman’s hand.
‘What are you up to this time, Jezebel?’ croaked an old woman loudly, moving out of the shadow of a gnarled olive tree. It was Paquita.
The younger gitana turned sharply round as Paquita crossed the narrow road to join them, saying, ‘Show me what you’ve got there.’ She snatched the tiny package from the other gypsy’s hand, throwing her a contemptuous look. ‘Shame on you!’ Then turning to Luz, she gazed at her with shrewd, hooded eyes that were unusually alert and penetrating for an old woman. ‘Go on your way, beautiful lady, go on your way and beware of red roses! The rose is a dangerous flower … it does not just hold the blossom, it also has thorns.’
After both gypsies had disappeared back up the hill towards the camp, Luz hurried home in a kind of haze. To Carmela’s dismay she evaded dinner and went straight to her room. She sat for a long time on the veranda, looking out over the beautiful vista before her without seeing it, ruminating on this painful confusion that was so unfamiliar to her. The waves crashed on to the rocks in the soft light of the fading day. Something had been unleashed in her that she dearly wished she could return from whence it came. Nothing made sense and nothing gave her comfort.
That night Luz’s dreams of fire returned, all-consuming this time, and she could not walk out of the flames.
|I am very busy these days with the ever-growing stack of books I need to read for reviews. But, there are so many good books out there waiting to be read that I decided to occasionally feature books without a review on my site. I have done a little research on each book featured (meaning I have read a sample) and found it worthy of being included in this new feature on my blog (worthy according to “Lucy” – meaning I would review the book if my pile were not so high.) The authors are anxiously awaiting reviews, so if you see a book that captures your fancy, please feel free to contact the author and let them know that you would like to review their book.|