“Sir, do not turn us away.” A dark-eyed beauty walked toward him while a tall gypsy man stood near the window. He scowled at Richard and turned his back to him.
Richard maintained his composure, although in truth he was startled. During his days in the military, he had encountered tribes of gypsies many times, but this was the first time one had offered to address him. It was a woman as well. The Romany kept their women close, and it was dangerous for an outsider to even speak to one.
“You have my word, hospitality will be extended to you. Is something urgent happening that you seek to speak with me?” he asked. Her expression made the question almost a foregone conclusion.
“I have a message for an English soldier called Cooper. It is very important that I speak with him. I asked and they told me he was a visitor here. May we see him? Tell him that Maria and Roale are here. He will understand.” Her voice was melodic and heavy with an accent. It throbbed with a passionate appeal. Truth, she was charming. The clouds of dark hair and those expressive black eyes, which seemed to hold exotic mysteries, were intriguing.
Is this trouble? Lynda was just two rooms away. Cooper might not be in danger of losing his home, but that did not mean he was safe from the loss of everything else.
“Might you confide in me? I am willing to give any important message to Mr. Cooper-Hanton for you. Just at present, he is not here.” The swarthy man by the window turned and stared at him. Perhaps he thought Richard was not telling the truth.
“We have ridden a long way to bring this message. It is a matter of some importance. Could you tell us where the Englishman Cooper is that we may seek him out?”
The young woman asked with a dignity that Richard thought admirable. It was obvious she was uncomfortable here, but she persevered in spite of it. Her lovely chin was tilted and her lips firm. He could readily see the temptation Cooper might have faced, now come back to haunt him.
“He is with the squire. You must have passed by his place on the way here. May I ring for refreshments? You must be tired after your long ride.” He reached for the bell, but hesitated when the man walked forward toward Maria. He gestured no, and Richard bowed his understanding.
“We must be going, but I thank you for your hospitality, sir.” Maria, skirts whirling, turned toward her companion and the two of them walked rapidly out of the room.
Richard stood at the doorway watching them leave. He glanced to his right and spied Lynda coming down the hall. She stared after the couple disappearing outside.
“Gypsies? Richard, those were gypsies. Are they here for Cooper? Is something wrong?” She turned with a worried face toward her host.
What do I say now? Here is a conundrum. Whatever answer I make will be the wrong one. Best just tell the truth.