The Crystal Rose

The Crystal Rose

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by Rebecca Brandewyne

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England, 1850: As she makes her way through London's crowded streets, Rose Windermere is nearly knocked to the ground by a man who whispers a dire warning...and presses a letter into her hands before fleeing. The letter seems innocuous enough--merely plans for a gentleman to meet his lover. But for Rose, the mark with which it is sealed recalls her

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England, 1850: As she makes her way through London's crowded streets, Rose Windermere is nearly knocked to the ground by a man who whispers a dire warning...and presses a letter into her hands before fleeing. The letter seems innocuous enough--merely plans for a gentleman to meet his lover. But for Rose, the mark with which it is sealed recalls her idyllic childhood in India and a world that was destroyed one terrible night, when an uprising left her dearest friend, Hugo, dead.

Amidst a city enthralled by its Great Exhibition, Rose is pulled back into the exotic land of her youth, as the past comes unimaginably alive. Caught in a web of deceit and intrigue, she must unravel the strange machinations of a man whose lust for power will threaten a monarchy--and Rose's own heart.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In romance veteran Brandewyne's latest entry, idyllic days in India in the 1830s are cut short for young Rose Windermere when her best friend, Hugo Drayton, is murdered, along with his parents. Fearing for their own safety, Rose's family moves back to England. Fifteen years later, Rose is shopping at the market when a strange man thrusts a letter into her basket and, before fleeing, cautions her to guard it with her life. Seeing the seal of Hugo's family on the letter, Rose surmises that it must concern the business of Hugo's cousin, and the veiled message inside indicates a lovers' rendezvous. Soon, however, Rose suspects she's being followed, and with a little investigation finds that her pursuer is Raj Khanna, a handsome Indian businessman, who's after the letter for reasons far graver than romance; amid rising suspense, Rose uncovers a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria and the truth about what happened to her beloved Hugo. Fast-paced, rooted in solid period details and supported by a fine cast of secondary characters-especially the scrappy street urchins who come to Rose's aid-Brandewyne's latest is another winning romp. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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4.20(w) x 6.66(h) x 0.96(d)

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In Distant Delhi

Ornament is but the guiled shore

To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf Veiling an Indian beauty.

The Merchant of Venice [1596-1597]

--William Shakespeare Thieves in the Night

Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreathed.

Paradise Regained [1671]

--John Milton

Chandni Chowk, Delhi, India, 1835

It was the shouts and screams that wakened young Rose Windermere.

And the light.

Like celebratory fireworks, this last illuminated the black-velvet night sky, made all the more terrible and terrifying by the fact that despite its inherent evil, it was strangely beautiful. Its tongues of wild yellow-orange flame cast shadows that danced like unbridled revelers on her bedroom walls, and showers of bright sparks rained like tiny shooting stars through the open windows, to flicker and die upon the hardwood floor.

Her mouth forming a small O of wonder, Rose sat up in bed, momentarily mesmerized by the brilliant, blazing light and cinders, not comprehending, at first, their awful significance. Then, slowly, the shouts and screams that echoed from beyond the open windows penetrated her consciousness, just as the acrid smell of billowing smoke permeated her nostrils, and she understood that something was horribly wrong. Confirming her sudden fright was the cacophony she could now also hear ensuing in her father's haveli or mansion, which fronted on Chandni Chowk, the main street and marketplace of Delhi. Her mother's piercing shrieks rang through the house, panicking Rose as she made out the words through the closed door of the bedroom.

"God saveus! Lord Thornleigh's haveli is on fire!" At that, Rose felt a fist of even greater fear clench her heart and begin to squeeze tightly.

Hugo! What had happened to Hugo?

Abruptly scrambling from bed, she ran to one of the windows, dragging over a small stool upon which to stand, so that she could see outside. To her utter horror, the mansion next door, where her best friend, Hugo Drayton, and his family lived, was indeed consumed by a conflagration. That was the cause of the wickedly beautiful light and flying sparks that had, only an instant before, so enthralled her.

Now, they only appalled her.

From their own quarters at the rear of the burning house, the Indian servants who worked at Lord Thorn-leigh's haveli had come running. But although they had formed a bucket brigade from the old stone well in the back garden and were now attempting to douse the lethal flames, it was clear even to the eight-year-old Rose that their battle to save the mansion was futile. The fire must have taken hold swiftly, she thought, and it was now far too advanced to halt. The best that could be hoped for was to prevent it from spreading to the neighboring houses along Chandni Chowk.

Even from the window where she leaned upon the sill, Rose could feel the dreadful heat of the blaze, and every now and then, as she watched, a cinder landed upon her, singeing her. But such was her terror over what had befallen Hugo that she scarcely felt the pain, was unaware of the small holes that were being charred into her thin white cotton nightgown.

But then, startling her from her rapt fixation on Lord Thornleigh's haveli, the bedroom door was suddenly flung open wide, and Vina, her Indian ayah, appeared, along with several other of the Winder-meres' servants.

"Little memsahib! " Vina cried, aghast as she spied Rose at the window. "What are you doing out of bed? You must come away from the window at once! Do you not see how the sparks have burnt you? Your nightgown could catch fire! You could go up in smoke like Lord Thornleigh's haveli! "

"Vina, where is Hugo? Is he all right?" Rose asked anxiously, as she allowed herself to be assisted down from the stool and led away from the window. "How did the fire start?"

"I do not know. Colonel Windermere has gone next door not only to help, but also to see what he can discover. Naturally, Mrs. Windermere is beside herself. She wishes to be assured that all her daughters are safe--so she must not see you looking like this!"

As she spoke, Vina stripped off Rose's singed, smoky nightgown, then bundled her into a fresh, clean one, along with a robe and slippers. After that, she washed Rose's face and hands, which were streaked with soot. Meanwhile, the rest of the servants who had accompanied the ayah moved to close the bedroom windows and also to rouse Rose's seven-year-old sister, Jasmine, from bed.

"Come," Vina commanded, hurrying the others along. "If the fire spreads, we must be prepared to leave Colonel Windermere's haveli at once!"

Rose wanted desperately to ask more questions. But Vina bade her be silent, then, taking her hand, hustled her from the bedroom and down the hall, where they were joined by more servants and the rest of Rose's younger sisters. Her slippered feet whispering along the bare wood floor as she practically skipped to keep up, Rose swallowed hard to choke back the words that threatened to tumble from her lips. She had never before seen Vina in such a stern state. Usually, the ayah was pleasant and soft-spoken. But at the moment, Vina's dark-skinned countenance looked forbidding. Her voice rasped as she urged those who trailed in her wake to even greater speed, and her grasp on Rose's small hand was positively crushing.

But still, as they descended the central staircase in the main hall to the small drawing room below, they went down the steps so quickly that Rose felt sure she would have slipped and fallen had not the ayah gripped her so tightly.

"My children! Oh, thank God, you are all safe and sound!" Mrs. Windermere cried, tears of relief streaming down her face as they entered the spacious room. To make certain, she counted heads, hugging and kissing each of her six daughters, from somber Rose, the oldest, to little Daisy, the three-year-old baby of the family, who, miraculously, still slept and had been carried downstairs by her ayah.

"Mama." Rose tugged insistently on her mother's gown. "What has happened to Hugo?"

"I don't know," Mrs. Windermere said absently, clearly distraught. "The Colonel has gone next door to try to find out, but he hasn't returned. I only hope he is all right--and Hugo, as well, of course! Indeed, we must say a prayer not only for your father and young Master Hugo, but also for Lord and Lady Thornleigh. Now, all you girls must sit here quietly and not leave the room--for if the fire cannot be contained, we shall have to evacuate the premises immediately!"

"You mean...leave our home, Mama?" Lily, Rose's six-year-old sister, asked worriedly. "But I don't want to go out into the dark!" Then, without warning, she burst into tears.

"Hush, Lily," Mrs. Windermere chided, "for I cannot think with you setting up such a wail! Oh, what must we do to prepare? Naturally, we must take my jewels and the family silver with us...."

Scurrying about the room, clutching first one highly prized object and then another, Mrs. Winder-mere continued alternately to talk to herself and to issue orders to the servants. The latter, long aware of their mistress's habitual fluster, now worsened in a crisis, moved swiftly and silently to do what was actually necessary. Watching mutely, Rose perched woodenly on the sofa, her heart hammering so loudly in her breast that she could hear it roaring in her ears.

What had happened to Hugo? * * *

With his bare hands, Mayur Singh had killed a man. With his own eyes, thirteen-year-old Lord Hugo Drayton, Viscount Lansdowne and heir to his father's earldom of Thornleigh, had seen it happen. But even now, when he knew his parents, Lord and Lady Thorn-leigh, had been brutally murdered in their beds and that he, too, would be dead in his own if not for the quick, savage actions of his manservant, Mayur Singh, to protect him, he could scarcely believe it.

As Hugo crouched in a clump of crepe myrtle beyond his father's burning haveli, his only thought was that, curiously, despite the heat of both summer and the conflagration, he was cold and shivering in the clothes in which his manservant had hastily dressed him before furtively leading him from the flaming mansion. After fiercely bidding him to remain hidden and silent in the cover of the bushes, Mayur Singh had disappeared back into the house, and now, Hugo did not know what had become of him, whether he, too, was dead, had been roasted alive in the haveli.

Hugo did not understand why his manservant had believed it necessary to conceal him, for surely, the dacoits, the Indian bandits who had attacked the mansion, were long gone, vanished into the night after killing his parents and robbing the house of whatever could easily be carried from it. Almost, he was tempted to leave his hiding place to try to learn for himself whatever he could. Only the thought of Mayur Singh's anger at and disapproval of his disobedience dissuaded him. Still, he felt like a coward, cowering in the crepe myrtle, while the servants risked their lives to attempt to stop the raging fire from spreading.

At the thought of this last, Hugo glanced anxiously at the house next door, where his best friend, Rose Windermere, lived. Startling him, almost as though he had wished her there, her small, fairylike face suddenly appeared at one of the upstairs windows.

"Rose!" Hugo called out hoarsely, forgetting himself. "Rose!"

But much to his despair, the noise and confusion that reigned in the night were such that she did not hear him. No one did--except for Mayur Singh, who slipped up behind him and placed a hand over his mouth to silence him. At first, not realizing it was his manservant, Hugo struggled desperately, fearing he had been discovered and seized by one of the dacoits. But then Mayur Singh spoke.

"Be still, sahib! It is only I."

"Well, thank goodness for that!" Hugo said, with a great deal of relief, as his manservant slowly released him. "Where have you been?"

"Fetching this." Mayur Singh held up the silver strongbox that had belonged to Hugo's father. "It contains important documents you will need someday, and fortunately, the bandits did not know where it was concealed. Now, come. We must go."

"Go? Go where?"

"To your mother's people in the Punjab, of course."

"But...why?" Hugo was stricken by the very idea.

"Surely, the best course of action is to go next door to the Windermeres" haveli and make a full report to the Colonel!"

"No." The manservant shook his head gravely. "I know the Windermeres are your friends and that you and the little memsahib Miss Windermere are close. But at the moment, we dare trust no one but your mother's people."

"But...why? Why, Mayur Singh? Why can we not trust the Windermeres? Oh, why has this terrible thing happened? I do not understand it at all!"

" more do I, sahib," the manservant said gravely. "On its face, it seems nothing more than a robbery. But then, why murder your parents? I ask myself. It is troubling...that. It casts a different light on the matter, so that I do not believe that all that has occurred tonight is exactly what it appears."

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