Lisa never intended to get mixed up with gypsies;,but when she saw the old woman being dragged out of the grocery by an irate store manager, it just happened. For her kindness, she’s given a magical gypsy charm—good for one wish—and finds herself the reluctant owner of the gypsies’ abandoned black cat…or is he? Tomas has appointed himself Lisa’s protector. He’s funny, attentive, and loving, the Perfect Pet. If he were human, he’d be the Perfect Man. And he’s determined to protect Lisa from everything, including predatory boyfriends. Soon, Lisa’s having dreams of a tall, dark man with the grace of a cat. He seems to think Lisa should know who he is but she knows she’s never seen him before. Could Lisa’s beloved pet have an agenda all his own?.
Lisa Carpenter never intended to become involved with gypsies; all she wanted to do was get home and order a pizza.
Friday Payday. The check was in the bank and she was in her car. Lisa was looking forward to the weekend. Two days of nothing but sleeping late and loafing and watching television. Life is good.
Pressing the brake pedal, she slowed the car, turning as it approached the corner. Just ahead was a little strip mall where she sometimes stopped for snacks on the way home. As she passed the Minute Mart, the door swing open and a man rushed out. One hand grasped a struggling woman by the arm, her movements hindered by the shopping bag and walking stick she carried. He headed for the curb, dragging the old woman with him. Without stopping, he turned and tried to take the bag from her.
When she resisted, he shoved her. Hard. She sprawled into the street, directly in front of Lisa’s car, the shopping bag striking the sidewalk with a solid thud, one seam splitting and sending its contents rolling across the concrete.
The brakes screamed and the car stopped a foot from the old woman’s head.
“You idiot! I might have hit her.” Lisa was out of the car, running around the open door toward them.
“Wish you had.” He gathered the groceries and stuffed them back into the bag. “That’d make one less gypsy to steal from me.”
“Didn’t steal,” came a denial from the street. “Have sales ticket.”
He bent, hooked the handle of the shopping bag with two fingers and stalked away.
“Hey, you can’t take that.” Lisa ran after him, fingers scrabbling at his arm. “It’s hers.”
“Yeah?” He spun around. “That old witch stole it. She filled her bag and tried to sneak out without paying.”
“She says she has a receipt--”
She glanced back at the old woman who was now sitting up, rubbing one leg. The hem of her skirt was hiked up, revealing worn, thick-soled shoes and brown cotton lisle stockings on scrawny legs.
The man headed for the store again.
“Wait! I-I’ll pay for the groceries.” If the old woman had really stolen them, perhaps she had a good reason.
“Do you know her?” He stared at her as if she’d lost her mind.
She shook her head.
“Whatever. It’s your money. If you want to throw it away on an old gypsy hag...” She could see what he was thinking as plain as if it was printed on his fat, ugly face. Don’t matter to me who pays as long as someone does.
“Fine.” Opening her purse, she fished a bill out of the bank envelope and thrust it at him. Probably doubled the price to make a profit. She’d seen what had fallen from the bag. Two cans of soup, a loaf of bread, a box of tea. Hardly twenty dollars-worth, even with today’s inflated prices, but if that pitiful amount was all the old woman had bought...
The man snatched the money, thrust the torn bag at her, and stomped back inside, slamming the door after him. Grasping the split seam so it stayed together, Lisa went back to the woman.
I wish you really were a witch. Then you could turn him into a toad or something.
The old woman looked up at her. Lisa set down the bag and grasped one of the woman’s thin arms, helping her to her feet. She was startlingly light.
“Are you all right?”
“Okay.” She settled her skirts and straightened her sweater. “No harm done.”
“Doesn’t look like it to me. Your leg’s bleeding and your stocking’s torn.” Lisa turned an angry face toward the store and the now-invisible manager. “Th-that beast! That--”
“Can say word you’re thinking.” The old woman gave her permission, dark eyes twinkling.
“That bastard!” It burst out with all the outrage she could muster. She stooped and picked up the walking stick and handed it to the woman, then lifted the shopping bag.
“I have a First Aid kit in my car. Come sit down and I’ll--”
“Is no need,” the woman protested. “Take care of it when I get home.”
Nevertheless, when Lisa opened the door, she allowed herself to be pushed onto the seat.
“Home? Where’s home?” Lisa set the bag in the foot of the car.
“Have RV. At campgrounds.”
“Over on Highway 20?”
The old woman nodded.
“How are you going to get there? Do you have a car?”
“Shank’s Mare, dear.” The old woman tapped her foot with the tip of the walking stick. She patted Lisa’s arm with a claw-like hand.
“That’s too far,” Lisa decided. “I’ll drive you. Buckle up.”
A little smile on her lips, the old woman obeyed.
~ * ~
As they turned the corner and started toward Highway 20, Lisa studied her passenger out of the corner of her eye. She was small and thin, appeared to be in her late sixties. Her face was wrinkled but not too dark, more like she had a very good tan, while her nose, though not exactly hooked, was definitely pronounced. Thick gray hair was pulled back into a tight little bun at the nape of her neck, very grandmotherly and ordinary looking. In fact, the only thing gypsy-like about her were the gold hoops swinging from her ears, but even those weren’t very large or exotic.
“My name’s Lisa,” she offered, if for no other reason than to break the silence. “Lisa Carpenter.”
“Lee... Sofia Lee.” The old woman turned from her contemplation of the road to give Lisa a brilliant, if brief smile, flashing very white teeth. Lisa wondered if they were real.
Lee? Doesn’t sound like very gypsy-like. Don’t they all have Middle European names like Zoltan or Froniga or something?
“Are you really a gypsy?”
“Really,” Sofia Lee affirmed. “You think I not look it? Should be wearing scarf around head, belt of coins, shaking tambourine and saying, Cross my palm with silver?” She gave an odd, burbling little laugh, seeming to find the image amusing. “I too old to do that anymore.”
Lisa didn’t answer. That was exactly what she was thinking.
“Didn’t steal,” Mrs. Lee continued. “Paid.” She bent, rummaged into the shopping bag and produced a crumpled piece of paper, which she held out. “See? Receipt. Always get accused.”
Placing one hand on her knee, she grimaced slightly. It was still bleeding, the blood dripping down her calf and onto the car’s already less-than-immaculate carpeting.
“Sorry. Ruin your car.” She pressed the hem of her dress against the wound, blotting hastily.
“That doesn’t matter,” Lisa assured her. “It’s just that--H-he was so mean. And you got hurt. He ought to be punished. I-I wish the meat in his deli would spoil! A-and... mice would eat the candy bars! I wish... I wish all the soda cans in the vending machines would explode!”
“Terrible curses,” Mrs. Lee chuckled. “Why not wish for something really bad? Like store burning down?”
That earned her a startled look. “I couldn’t do that. If the store burned down, someone might get hurt. All his employees would be out of jobs. I just want him to be humiliated a little. No, a lot!”
“You good. Kind.” The old woman nodded. “For gaje woman.”
Is that a compliment? What’s a gaje?