Hidden Moon (Chapter 2)

Grace stepped forward again, fingers tightening on the butt of her gun. I threw my arm out, smacking her in the chest. She growled. "Stop that," I ordered. "I'll handle this." My father always said you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and I'd found it to be true. Of course Grace's dad had been of the opinion that might is always right, and he'd made certain that was true. Grace was more a chip off the old block than I was.

She ignored my words and shouldered her way in front of me, leaving her hand on the gun. "You can't just camp here. We've got a festival starting in a few days."

"Which is exactly why we've come, darlin'." Cartwright stretched out his arm and a sheaf of papers appeared in his palm. I knew the stack hadn't just appeared, but whoever was giving him things was damned quick about it.

He presented the sheets with a flourish. "We've been hired to entertain you."

The way he said "entertain" caused heat to flare in my stomach. I had no doubt that his idea of entertainment and mine were a whole lot different – or maybe, considering the direction of my thoughts, just the same.

Grace glanced at me with a scowl.

"Wasn't me." I held up my hands in surrender.

After snatching the papers from Cartwright, she peered at the first page, then lifted her gaze to mine.

"Joyce," we said at the same time. Grace passed me the contract.

Sure enough, my assistant had hired the caravan to entertain during the week of the Full Moon Festival.

The festival planning had begun long before I'd returned, and since those who'd been planning it had done so for years, I'd let them continue. I probably should have paid more attention.

I didn't think the people of Lake Bluff were going to be all that happy to discover itinerant Gypsies camped at the lake. From the way Grace was eyeing them, she wasn't wild about the idea, either.

Unfortunately, they'd been paid a good chunk of our treasury already, and it was too late to hire someone else to entertain now, even if we had the money for it. The festival was our cash cow. Without it, Lake Bluff wouldn't survive.

"Is everything in order?" Cartwright asked.

I glanced up and found myself captured again by his dark, dark eyes. I was disturbed, not only by their strange color but also by their intense expression. What was it about me that interested him?

Perhaps it was just the novelty. I wasn't the only blue-eyed redhead in Lake Bluff, but I was the only one here, and no one in the immediate vicinity wore a business suit and heels. Smart of them. My Dior jacket had me baking in the sun, and my Kenneth Cole pumps were coated with dust, the heels sinking into the gravel with every step, no doubt scratching the surface beyond repair.

"Everything appears to be fine," I said, and returned the contract.

His fingers brushed mine as he accepted the papers. I jerked away, nearly tearing it in my haste to retreat.

The Gypsies murmured. Cartwright's smile froze. Grace shot me an exasperated look.

The reaction was rude, as if I didn't want him to touch me. I didn't. Not because of who he was, but because of what he was.

A man. They frightened me.

"I guess you can stay," Grace allowed. "But you'll need to keep your people under wraps."

Cartwright's eyes narrowed. "What exactly is your meaning, Sheriff?"

"My meaning is this – everyone in Lake Bluff has a gun and no one is afraid to use it. Sneaking around after dark where you don't belong is an invitation to get shot."

"You think we'll be stealin' then, perhaps kidnapping a few of your wee ones?"

Cartwright let his gaze scan Grace from top to bottom. His perusal was not complimentary – probably the first time in the history of Grace.

"You should know better than to believe everything you hear. All Gypsies aren't thieves and baby stealers any more than all Indians are lazy drunks."

Grace's cheeks darkened. "Point taken. I apologize."

My eyes widened. Another first.

"But the warning still stands. Others in Lake Bluff might not be as enlightened as I am."

Cartwright's mouth twitched. "Of course not."

He said something to his people in their language, and they shuffled and murmured and stared.

"What did you tell them?" I asked.

"To stay in camp after dark."

"Does anyone else speak English?"

"Some. But we prefer to speak Romani, the language of the Rom. The Gypsies," he clarified. "We don't want to lose our heritage."

"Understandable," Grace murmured.

When we were kids, Grace had spent a lot of time studying the old ways with her Cherokee medicine woman great-grandmother who'd insisted the ancient knowledge should not be lost.

Now that Grace was a public servant, I wondered how much of her background she flaunted. The Lake Bluff sheriff was elected, and while the residents were used to seeing Native American descendants in their town, that didn't mean they wanted their head cop performing a rain dance beneath the light of the moon. If the Cherokee even had a rain dance.

I turned to Cartwright. "What type of entertainment are we talking about?"

For all I knew, they might have come here to do naked rain dances, which would not be the kind of show we wanted for our family festival.

"Human sacrifice and the like."

I gaped; so did Grace. A few of the Gypsies began to laugh.

"Sorry." Cartwright spread his hands. "I couldn't resist."

When neither Grace nor I cracked a smile, he said a few short words in their language and his people dispersed, then he returned his attention to us.

"We perform like our ancestors did. As you can see" – Cartwright swept an arm out to indicate the wagons, the animals, the gaily dressed people – "we endeavor to bring the flavor of the Old World to the new one. The Rom have long been travelers."

"Why is that?" Grace asked.

"The easier to avoid arrest for our stealing and kidnapping."

Beginning to get his humor, I laughed; Grace didn't.

"Seriously," she said. "What's up with your blast-of-the-past show?"

"People enjoy it." He shrugged. "We're different, and that'll keep you workin' week after week."

"When you say different – "

"Fortune-telling, animal acts, trinkets."

"Big whoop," Grace muttered. "Been there, done that, a hundred times before."

"Not like this." He turned to me as if I'd been the one questioning him. "If you'd like to come by another time, Mayor Kennedy, I'd enjoy showing you just what makes us so special."