Read an Excerpt
By Jade Lee
Copyright © 2005
All right reserved.
The white woman knew the way to Heaven!
Shi Po pounded down the stairs to the front hallway, her bound
feet protesting every stunned, angry, awed, and gleeful step.
She had no idea how she could feel all those things at once,
especially since she had felt nothing for so many years. But
she did. And her feet protested, even as pain forced her to
soften her steps.
Besides, it would be suicide to enter a General's presence
appearing anything other than vapidly stupid.
Shi Po moderated her pace, pasted on a ox-like placid face,
and called for a tea tray. The servants responded immediately.
So she was soon pushing slowly into the receiving room while
still struggling to quiet her spirit.
The General was an ugly man. That was her first thought. Not
ugly in a physical sense, but in his fortune. His body was
handsome enough, she supposed. His shoulders were broad and
imposing, especially with his leather armor. His Manchu queue
was dark and thick; the tight braid clubbed close to his head.
But his face revealed the ugliness of bad fortune. His head
was short and tight, depicting a small fortune, except in his
chin which was long and pointed, suggesting a happier old age.
His earlobes were also long and full, but Shi Po did not trust
that. Sheguessed that his mother had tugged incessantly at
his ears to counteract the fortune in his face.
The most damning evidence of all, though, was not in his body
but in the stench that pervaded the room. Horse and man and
Shanghai mud produced a commonplace odor. The thick and sour
stench burned the back of one's nostrils. But all men in
Shanghai carried that particular curse to some degree. It was
the other smell that made Shi Po duck her head and wish for
her perfumed oils.
It was the decaying scent of fear covered by anger. And the
smell of old blood.
This man was a killer. Not just a general of the Imperial Qin
army, but a murderer of innocents. Of that she was certain.
"Tea, your honor," she said as she minced her way into the
room. "To pass the time until my husband returns." She wished
she'd had time to change out of her red skirt with the
fashionable slits up to mid-thigh. She had no desire to
display herself before this man. But perhaps it would help her
appear completely useless.
One look at the General's thickly compressed eyebrows told Shi
Po she'd failed. He saw through her feigned stupidity. And
even if he didn't, this man disposed of useless, silly things.
"You are Tan Shi Po?" he demanded in his northern Mandarin
She dipped her body in a respectful bow, answering in kind,
though the language was difficult to her Shanghai-born tongue.
"Yes, your honor."
"When will your husband return?"
"He was sent for the moment you arrived," she returned as she
folded her body onto a pillow near a low table.
All the cushions in her home were scented with soothing,
pleasant herbs. The one she settled on was no different. So as
she leaned forward to mix leaves and hot water in the
General's cup, she should have inhaled the sweet scent of
radish seed and cinnamon, ci shi and sandalwood. She didn't.
Instead, she smelled the same vile mixture of fear and anger,
rising like steam from her own skin.
She hated that women served as mirrors to men, reflecting
their emotions. His fear gave rise to her own. His anger
fueled her rage. And no amount of tea or sweet herbs could
cover the disgusting fumes that now rose from both their
She poured his tea, her hands steady through an act of will.
But all the while her thoughts writhed in her mind, searching
for escape. Where was Kui Yu? Surely her husband would be
found soon. He would not disregard an Imperial summons.
Especially when it came in the form of the most powerful
general in China. He would be here soon, she reassured
herself, and with his return, she could shift her heart, her
flesh to his center. She would reflect her husband's
quietness, then her fear would fade, the rage dissipate, and
she would be in balance again. If only Kui Yu would return.
"Might I know how to best serve your honor?" she simpered,
forcing herself into the feminine aspect of total
The General grimaced as he sipped his tea before setting it
aside. She had chosen leaves to purify and soothe, but he
pushed it away. Clearly his spirit had no desire to moderate
its temper. She bowed her head, softening her body in an
attempt to distort the mirror she was. She did not want to
increase her reflection of his foul aspect.
His harsh tone interrupted her thoughts. "You are Tan Shi Po,
sister to the traitor Abbot Tseng Rui Po."
She flinched, unable to keep a blaze of anger from heating her
face. Fortunately, she was able to shift her attitude to
wounded confusion as if he had just hurt a helpless animal.
"Why would you say such a thing?" she whispered.
"Because it is true," he snapped, his voice as hard as hurled
stone. "And he has paid for his crimes. He and all his
Shi Po already knew her brother was dead. The last of his
students-a Manchurian-had brought this evil news some days
ago. Along with a white girl. The two had already managed to
sow discord in her quiet little school. But she could not
allow the General to know that, so she raised stricken eyes to
"Paid?" she gasped. "How ..." She swallowed, making sure her
voice remained breathy. "Please, sir, what were his crimes?
And how ... How did he pay?"
The General leaned forward, using his superior height to
intimate. In this, however, he failed because it gave her a
good view of the thin space between his upper lip and his
nose. Indeed, this man's fortunes were doomed, and that
thought alone heartened her.
"Your brother trained rebels of the White Lotus Society. He
and all his misguided followers have been executed for their
foolishness." His words slowed for maximum effect, and Shi Po
found her gaze pulled up from his thin lip to his piercing
eyes. "All are dead save one student. One man spared to pass
the warning." Then he pushed loudly to his feet. "You know
where this man is, Tan Shi Po. And you will take me to him.
Such was the power of his spirit that Shi Po found herself
rising. But she was a mirror, so as his strength increased, so
did her own.
"I know nothing of this," she lied. "Are you sure? Abbott
Tseng of the Shiyu monastery?"
The General would have none of it. His hand was huge, the
pressure intense where he gripped her arm. His leg knocked the
table, spilling his tea onto the ancient wood floor. He
ignored it; his focus trained on her.
"One monk. Carrying sacred scrolls. He came to you." Though he
spoke it as fact, she felt a quiver of doubt through his hand.
The man was guessing, hoping he was correct.
Which, of course, he was.
She shook her head, pretending to be stunned by her brother's
death. "Rui Po!" she wailed, the tears flowing like a river as
was expected from women in any relative's death. Indeed, over
the years, she had perfected the skill of crying on demand.
But this time her grief was real, the pain of her brother's
death still fresh.
The General cast her aside with a grunt of disgust. "I will
search your home now."
"But why?" she gasped through her tears. "I know nothing of
He turned, his eyes on fire, the stench of his fear keeping
her on her knees. "Because he is my monk, Tigress Shi Po."
Shi Po barely heard his words. Her gaze, her mind, indeed her
entire spirit was caught in the vision of his body in profile.
A light reflected up from the polished floor or maybe a
similarity in gesture revealed the secret. They were both
Manchu, after all. Both warriors, for all that one was a monk.
Whatever the cause, the truth burst into her mind.
"You are his father," she said. And in that moment, all
changed. Days ago, Shi Po had hidden a true seeker, a monk
with political connections who needed time to recover from the
massacre of his entire monastery. Now she knew she was keeping
a father from his son-a sin punishable by death.
She balanced precariously on her tiny heels as she wiped away
her tears. The General was silent, his spirit's fury betrayed
by his clenched fists. "You know nothing about my son," he
said with a growl. "Do not presume to understand your betters,
Her gaze dropped to the floor, only now remembering he had
called her by her title. Tigress Shi Po, he had said. He knew
who she was, and so cursed her as a sorceress. At least it was
better than whore.
"I merely guess, my lord." Her words grew softer with feminine
modesty. "Only a father could claim a monk as his own."
"And only the unnatural leader of a twisted religion would
dare deny me," he snapped.
She had not denied him anything-yet. The insults to her
calling she relegated to noise from a monkey's mouth. And yet,
her problem still remained. She hid General Kang's son. And
part of her longed to turn the boy over for bringing this
trouble to her home.
"My house," she said, "is open to you. All except the women's
quarters." She looked up, but kept her attitude soft, still
trying to stop reflecting his venom. "You are a powerful man
in form and spirit. I cannot risk the chaos your presence
would have on the delicate women of my household."
"You mean the misguided whores of your perverse religion."
She said nothing. Indeed if he knew enough to call her a
Tigress, then he knew enough to be enlightened if he chose.
Obviously, he did not. She had no choice but to accept his
condemnation for such was the lot of all women in China
whether Manchurian or Han.
He continued to glare at her, his eyes narrowed in his pinched
face. "I have no interest in your women. My son would not
contaminate himself with you."
How she wished to tell the truth. Not only was his son
contaminating himself with the tigress "perversions", he did
it with a white woman. But saying such a thing would be to
hand the General a torch to burn her house to the ground-with
herself and all her followers inside. So she remained silent,
moving slowly forward as she exaggerated the difficulty of
walking on bound feet.
They moved easily through the main house, pausing only as the
General motioned for six soldiers to lead the way. She
remained gracious throughout for that was a woman's task. Even
as they pushed aside large urns of rice or banged through the
pots. They disturbed cats and servants, dragged asides
tapestries and furniture. They found nothing, of course, even
though they dug their filthy hands deep into sacks of
vegetables and piles of linens.
He was kind in that his men were careful. But the sense of
violation increased as his men pulled up floorboards looking
for secret caches and poured water onto stone floors looking
for a hidden pit. Her entire home was disrupted, and she could
do nothing but stand aside and watch.
Until she heard a scream. It came from the women's quarters.
It was the building where her students practiced, the place of
many bedrooms including the one that sheltered the General's
son and his white partner.
Shi Po spun on her heel, grabbing the wall as she teetered,
then rushed to the sound. The General shifted behind her, but
she moved faster, knowing her home and the handholds needed to
travel quickly to the inside garden. She guessed what had
happened. Knew, in fact, from the very beginning that such a
thing was coming. Still, she had thought her husband would
have returned by now and found a way to prevent it.
But Kui Yu was not here. Shi Po scurried around the goldfish
fountain and flowering lotus to see her best student-Little
Pearl-struggling in the grip of a soldier. More of the
General's men were throwing open doors, roughly dragging her
tigress cubs outside. Fortunately, none had partners with
them. The servants had already seen to the gentlemen's escape.
All except one. The monk. No, she silently corrected herself.
The General's son.
Shi Po slowed her pace, her mind working furiously. She could
not afford a rash action here. The soldiers would soon work
their way to the monk's room. The General made his way to her,
and she rounded on him, allowing fury to boil over. Tears and
supplication had not worked with the man. She would try
"How can you be so cruel?" she screeched. "You swore to me you
would not upset these ladies' delicate conditions!" Right on
cue, her cubs descended into wails, not all of which was
feigned. "Is the word of an Imperial general worth so little?"
"My gravest apologies, Lady Tan," he said as he took in every
detail of her cubs-their beauty, their fit figures, and their
easily removed clothing. "My men misunderstood. Their actions
Shi Po sincerely doubted his men misunderstood anything, but
she held her tongue. Especially as the General ordered the
soldiers to release the women. They did, though lewd and
hungry eyes continued to travel over the girls. At least none
of her students seemed harmed.
Shi Po sent a speaking look at Little Pearl who nodded her
head and quickly shepherded the other cubs away. They would be
given mundane clothing to wear and each would disappear to
their homes. Those who had nowhere to go would dress as
deformed servants-scullery maids with dark red rashes or
diseased beggars come inside for a crumb of bread. There would
be no trace of the beauties that studied with here. And so
they would be safe.
Not so the monk and his white woman who were hiding on the
upper floor, relying on Shi Po to keep them safe.
"General, call all your men back! I have sick women upstairs,"
"Disease is a natural result of your unholy work," he
returned, his voice bored. Then he spoke to his lieutenant.
"Tell them to be wary of foulness."
"You said they would not disturb the women!" Shi Po cried.
"Oh yes," he drawled. "An error on my part. No harm done. My
men will return in a moment."
What could she do? Nothing. Only scramble for an excuse to
give for not handing over the monk and his white woman
earlier. And still there was no sign of Kui Yu. No rescue from
her husband or the doom that awaited her.
She swallowed. "General Kang, surely this is not necessary.
You can see-"
"Silence, sorceress. You have no voice here." As emphasis, the
nearest soldier drew his sword, the scrape of metal loud in
the perfumed garden. All around her, the men tensed, ready to
battle whatever mystical forces might appear between her
ornamental bushes and sweet smelling grasses. Their pose might
have been funny if they weren't so earnest. If they didn't
truly think she was some evil mystic and plan to kill her if
the wind so much as rustled in the trees.
"Very well," she murmured, her spirit struggling against the
inevitable. There was nothing she could do to help the monk
and his woman. She would do what she could to protect herself
and her students. "I will see to my distraught women." She
turned, intending to walk calmly-and quickly-out of the
"You will wait upon my pleasure, Tigress." The General sneered
her title, the sound so foul she would have preferred he call
It was on the tip of her tongue to say that men waited upon
her pleasure, not the other way around. Why else would she
become a tigress? But then there was a commotion from the
building and she managed-just barely-to keep her tongue.
"Anything?" the General demanded, his voice as tight as his
One soldier. Two. Then two more appeared from the building.
But no monk. And no ghost girl.
"We found empty bedrooms, General. Rumpled sheets. Water in
the basins. But no soul-diseased or otherwise."
The General stepped forward, the smell of anger and fear
multiplying. "No people?"
"Were there signs of a man? Anything that would indicate-"
"Nothing, General. Just rumpled sheets and water."
Shi Po listened with a bowed head, her eyes carefully downcast
to hide her feelings. They had found nothing? No monk? No
white woman? She lifted her gaze, narrowing her eyes as she
tried to imagine where the two might be hiding. Where would
the white woman go?
She cared nothing for the monk except that he and his father
leave her home immediately. That he had escaped meant nothing
to her so long as the girl remain behind. Shi Po had been most
explicit. She had told the woman to stay here, and the woman
had nodded in agreement.
Where was she?
Her anger got the best of her and she pushed forward. "What of
the sick girl? One with no voice. She is not there?"
The soldier didn't even look at her, answering her question as
if the General had posed it. "No one, sir. No sick women. And
no men at all. We searched most thoroughly."
Excerpted from Desperate Tigress
by Jade Lee
Copyright © 2005 by Jade Lee .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.