Binding Vows Page 1

Chapter 1

They weren’t even at the county line, and Tara McAllister already regretted getting in the car. She entertained a beautiful, yet brief fantasy of turning the late model Honda Accord around and heading back home.

The pounding behind her eyes began about ten miles ago when Cassy, her best friend, started reading the information she had downloaded from the Internet.

Traveling down a dirty highway, in the heat of summer with a broken air conditioner, Tara repeated the words Cassy lived and breathed by,

“You’re only young once, ” YOYO, as Cassy would say anytime Tara started balking, as if the words were the secret code to life itself. Tara scolded herself for falling headlong into the world of her oldest and best friend, a world full of piss-poor planning and lousy accommodations.

“Remember, this was your idea,” Cassy said, glancing up from the papers she was reading.

“No. I suggested going to that medieval restaurant for dinner and a show. You came up with attending a Renaissance fair. You’d think after last time, I would have learned,” Tara muttered.

“Who could have known Wyoming would be so cold in February?”

“It was winter! And cold doesn’t describe what twenty below zero feels like. I never even got on the back of a horse. Who goes to a dude ranch in the winter?”

They did, and Tara wouldn’t forget how sick she’d been. She never left her bed the entire time they were there.

“This will be better, just wait and see.”

“Right.” Tara couldn’t believe she’d gotten herself roped into another one of Cassy’s adventures.

This time, she’d agreed to a Renaissance fair and an extended weekend in some Podunk town with what she imagined was a compound filled with circus freaks.

They weren’t even going to have a bed for God’s sake. They were going to sleep in tents, in the middle of some grimy field, with strangers and only thin strips of fabric separating them. Tara imagined the sounds and smells she’d be forced to endure over the next few days.

As if the rugged sleeping accommodations weren’t enough, from the minute they arrived until they left, dresses were the required attire for all women. Dresses with entirely too many undergarments. Aside from the dress code, they could eat only food available during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

“Ah ha!” Cassy screamed, waving the papers in front of Tara’s eyes, all but causing her to swerve into traffic.

“Would you mind? I’m trying to drive here.”

“Listen to this!” Cassy ignored her and read the pamphlet aloud. “When ye arrive, all ladies are asked to wear the costume they think is most befitting their station in life. If ye are a vendor or entertainer, it is understood your garments and color choices lean toward the drab, while honored guests and people of wealth are encouraged to bring their most colorful fetching gowns. Ladies’ hairstyles should represent their station in relevance to the time.”

“Remember, only young unmarried maids are allowed to wear their hair down and uncovered. If ye are married, divorced, or are no longer virtuous, your hair should be bound or covered the entire time ye are at the fair. In an effort to maintain propriety and honesty, everyone must pass the scrutiny of the town’s Gypsy Queen. She will decide if the costume and appearance is appropriate to each guest. Don’t think ye can befuddle our Queen!”

Cassy just loved this shit, her voiced hitched higher, adding drama. “She is most accurate in her visions. In fact, parents of young maidens often bring them for the sole purpose of determining if their offspring has experienced carnal knowledge.”

She took a breath and ignored Tara’s eyes as they rolled in the back of her head. “This is going to be so great. I can’t wait until we get there.”

“Do you really believe that crap? How can anyone know if you’ve slept with someone just by looking at you?”

“I’m not sure. But it says here, she can.”

“I’ll bet there’s more to it than that.” Tara switched lanes to merge into the traffic on the connecting freeway.

“More to it than what?”

“More to it than looking at you. Maybe she has naked men standing beside her.” Tara pictured how a virgin might react to seeing a naked man for the first time. Some would giggle and hide their eyes, while others might stare open-mouthed and dumbstruck. She laughed at the thought.

“I like the sound of that.”

“You would!” Tara said. “Or maybe the Gypsy has some good looking guy hitting on the women as they come in and watches from some remote camera for their reactions.”

“You’re such a cynic, Tara. I thought you liked this type of thing, or at least believed there’s more to magic than what you read in books?”

Tara did in fact think there was more to magic than fiction put on paper. On the other hand, she was a realist. The Gypsy Queen would have to prove herself before Tara forked over any of her hard earned tips acquired by working countless hours waiting tables. “That doesn’t mean I believe everything I hear.”

“I don’t believe everything I hear, just some of it.

I wonder if the Gypsy reads palms. I would love to hear what my future holds,” Cassy said.

The sign on the highway indicated the off-ramp they needed was coming up. “Oh, I’m sure. For money! And since she won’t be around after the weekend, it’s not like you can get a refund if she’s full of shit.”

“Cynic!” Undaunted by her friend’s attitude, Cassy reached into her purse and removed a tube of lip gloss.

“I can tell you your future.”

Making popping noises with her lips, Cassy asked, “Oh yeah, what is it?”

“You’ll begin your brilliant nursing career, along with me, after we graduate in December. Then you’ll find Mr. Wonderful or, even better, Dr. Wonderful, and settle down to a fabulous life in the suburbs in two or three years. See, I didn’t need to look at your hand, and it didn’t cost you a dime.”

“Ha!” Cassy tossed her bag aside. “A lot you know. I’ll have a passionate affair with Dr.

Wonderful, but I won’t marry him. Who wants to be married to a doctor who’s on call all the time?”

“Good point.” The stop sign at the end of the off-ramp forked in both directions. “Which way now?”

Cassy picked up the map. “Go right. The brochure says we should fuel up at the next town.

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