The British aristocracy is an inflexible judge. And for Amala, a lovely young Indian woman, that judgment is most keenly felt. Raised from a child by the wealthy Hepworth family following the murder of her parents, Amala grew up alongside the Hepworth’s own daughter, Katarina, and was loved as both sister and daughter. The family is part of the charmed circle of the upper class, but Amala’s place in society is tenuous. As an Indian woman, her life is marked by a sense of otherness and voices of prejudice. So when she embarks upon a sweet acquaintance with Henry Breckenridge, a white Englishman, Amala is both elated and terrified. She knows first-hand the opposition that an interracial couple would face, and courtship with Henry could destroy his standing in society.
Determined to spare the reputations of both Henry and her sister Katarina, Amala flees England with the hope that an extended trip will allow her time to heal her broken heart. But she never imagined the repercussions of that decision, and the heartbreak awaiting her. For when she returns to England, she finds those she holds dear facing unparalleled devastation. And now it is her love that holds the key to healing a broken family . . .
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Read an Excerpt
Color of Love
A Historical Romance
By Anita Stansfield
Covenant Communications, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Anita Stansfield
All rights reserved.
Wiltshire, England — 1867
Amala sat on a particularly uncomfortable chair at the edge of the crowded and stuffy ballroom. While trying to keep her back straight — as a lady was expected to do — she fanned her face with the hand-painted lace fan that had been a Christmas gift from her father. He wasn't really her father, and everyone knew it. In fact, no one outside of the family ever referred to him as her father. But that was how she thought of him and felt about him, and the fan was something she treasured. In that moment she also appreciated the way it offered just enough movement of air in front of her face to keep her from feeling faint. The music was too loud, the room was too hot, and her corset was too tight. Her back ached nearly as much as her feet, and she longed to be at home in her own room, wearing a nightgown and getting lost in a good novel. But a glance at the clock told her it could be hours before that happened, and then she'd surely be too exhausted to read. She wished she hadn't been required to be here at all, but that was part of the price she paid for being given the gift of such a privileged life — especially when she knew that what her fate could have been otherwise was too unbearable to even think about.
Amala became distracted from her own misery when she noticed that one of the servants carrying a tray of champagne glasses was Indian. He was middle-aged and nice looking, and was wearing typical Indian dress rather than the conventional English suit that was worn by most manservants. She watched him discreetly, intrigued by what his background might be and what his reasons might be for being here. And why wouldn't she be curious? He was the first person she'd seen in years who had the same dark skin and hair as herself. He'd clearly come from the country of her birth. How could she not be fascinated? She wanted to talk to him but knew that having a real conversation with one of the servants would be considered entirely inappropriate.
A few minutes later Amala noticed another Indian servant in the massive ballroom, and then a third — except this one was a woman. They were all wearing traditional Indian dress. She felt intrigued with the woman's clothing especially, and thought that it looked far more comfortable than the chemise, corset, petticoats, and gown that were constricting her own body and making her sweat.
Katarina sat down next to Amala, sounding out of breath. "Oh, I could dance all night," her sister said with delight.
"I couldn't," Amala said. "My feet are screaming."
"We must get you some better slippers for such events," Kat declared.
"Little good it would do. You don't see any men lined up wanting to dance with me, do you?"
"They just don't know you," Kat said with her usual optimism.
"And they never will," Amala said, stating an obvious truth. Since Kat was English and not her blood sister, she could never fully understand either. But she tried, and Amala loved her for it. "It's just as it's always been, Kat. The color of my skin keeps people from even trying to get to know me. Therefore, you are my one and only true friend for life."
"Well, it's not fair," Kat said as if she'd never said it before. Amala couldn't count how many times she'd said it throughout the years they'd shared. "It shouldn't make any difference, whatsoever."
"It shouldn't but it does, and it's a fact of the world we live in. It's not fair but that's the way it is. There's no point making a fuss over something that can't be changed." Amala concluded the same speech she'd made countless times over the years, but Kat likely hadn't heard the last few words because a gentleman had asked her to dance and she was off again having a marvelous time. Kat certainly did love to dance. Perhaps it was a good thing that Amala wasn't terribly fond of dancing; perhaps that helped ease her disappointment somewhat. Perhaps it was better if she wore shoes that hurt her feet and kept her from wanting to be on the dance floor, caught up in the movement and color of the main purpose of this event. She told herself all of that was true, but in some tiny, secret place deep inside herself, this was one of those moments when she truly wished she wasn't different. At home with her family she wasn't treated as if she was different, but they only had to step outside of the house for her to become an oddity. The local people tolerated her at their social events because her father was a powerful and influential man, and no one would dare tell him that the orphan Indian girl he'd raised as a companion to his daughter was not welcome to attend their balls and picnics and bazaars. And so Amala went dutifully wherever her family went, but she most often remained on the outskirts of whatever was taking place.
"Are you thirsty?" she heard a male voice ask and felt a little startled.
"What was that?" she asked, pretending she hadn't heard him due to the noise in the room — which was perfectly believable. In truth, she just wanted to be certain he was talking to her.
"I asked if you're thirsty," he said, holding a cup of punch out toward her.
"I am, actually," she said, taking it after she'd set her fan in her lap. "Thank you. That's very kind of you." She took a sip, and he sat in the chair where Kat had been sitting.
"Forgive me if I'm intruding," he said. "But you looked rather ... bored."
"I must try harder to be a better actress," Amala said and took another sip of the punch, realizing she was much thirstier than she'd realized.
"Not at all," the man said. "I don't believe in pretending. We should convey exactly who we are and how we feel."
"Perhaps," Amala said, feeling a little awkward in spite of his kindness. She noted that he was tall and as well built as he was well dressed. His hair was dark blond with a distinct wave to it that she suspected would be curlier if it hadn't been forced into submission for an event such as this.
"Forgive me," he said. "I haven't properly introduced myself. I am Henry Beckenridge. And you are?"
"Amala," she said and laughed softly to cover feelings of mild embarrassment, as she usually did when people asked her name. "I won't bother telling you the rest because you won't be able to pronounce it and you won't remember it. Unofficially I belong to the Hepworth family, but I was never actually adopted. I have always been considered a companion to their daughter Katarina. We are near the same age, and very close in every way. It works out nicely at home, but on occasions such as this, I ..." Amala stopped herself. "I don't know why I'm telling you all of this. We're complete strangers, Mr. Beckenridge."
"We're becoming acquainted ... Amala. And I know of the Hepworth family — of Willenbrock House — even though I confess I am barely acquainted. Dare I guess you were going to say that on such occasions you don't really feel like you fit in?"
"It's not a matter of what I feel, sir; it is a fact. I have lived in England since I was a child. Although it's impossible for me to speak — as much as I've tried — without betraying a hint in my accent that I am not English. I will never be able to look English, or sound English, and therefore I will never be English."
"And so you sit here and watch everyone else dancing and having a good time? Is this how you generally handle social events?"
"If you must know, yes."
He set his punch down on a little table and stood up. "Then you must dance with me."
Amala felt astonished. She could count on her fingers the number of times she'd actually been asked to dance, and never by a man so handsome. It was generally the homely men who felt out of place themselves who behaved as if they were doing her a great favor to dance with her. But this man genuinely seemed to want to dance with her.
Amala had to admit. "Truthfully, my feet are killing me, and ..."
"Slip off your shoes," he whispered. "Push them under the chair and no one will ever notice. Come along. Dance with me."
"I must warn you," Amala said, liking this man more by the minute, "dancing with me could create a scandal. Consorting with a woman like me is not looked upon favorably."
"And I've never looked favorably upon the ridiculous notions of society that make absolutely no sense whatsoever." He held out his hand. "So, let's cause a stir, shall we?"
A waltz had just begun and Henry was quick to catch her up in the lively rhythm of the dance. His efficiency made it evident he'd had plenty of practice, but it helped make up for Amala's lack of practice. He swept her effortlessly around the dance floor while Amala was aware of her full taffeta skirt swirling around her and brushing against that of other ladies, who were all wearing skirts far too full to be practical for any purpose except this.
When the dance was finished everyone applauded, although the lace, fingerless gloves Amala wore prevented her hands from making any sound whatsoever. Unwilling to make any presumptions — or even the appearance of them — in regard to the attention Henry had so kindly offered, she hurried back to where she'd been seated and picked up her fan from the chair in order to sit down. But she was barely seated when she heard Henry say, "Did I frighten you? I must confess I was hoping for more than one dance."
"Perhaps later," Amala said, fanning her face. She truthfully stated, "I must confess that it's terribly hot in here." She didn't add that she thought it would be far better if he wasn't seen spending too much time with her. A vast collection of difficult memories supported her concern. "But ... thank you, Mr. Beckenridge," she added in order to be polite. "You have been most kind."
"Please call me Henry," he said and again sat beside her. Amala felt concerned but couldn't force him to go away. In truth she was enjoying his company and couldn't help feeling pleased — however foolhardy his spending too much time in her presence might be. "And let me call you Amala ... since you've not given me a proper surname I might use."
"Most people call me Miss Hepworth ... even if it's only a formality."
"That all sounds very well and proper," he said, "but I prefer to call you Amala, and I would very much like to have a conversation with you."
"About what?" she asked as if he'd proposed something scandalous.
He chuckled with a sparkle in his eyes that made her stomach flutter, and she increased the speed of her fan.
Henry leaned slightly closer, as if he meant to tell her a secret, although he could have likely shouted and no one would have been able to hear what he said due to the din of music and laughter in the room. "I'm hoping you would do me a very big favor," he said, and for a moment she wondered if he was proposing something scandalous. "You see ... I'm feeling a little ... disoriented, and I do believe there is no one here I could talk to about it but you."
"Why?" she asked, hearing an abruptness in her voice that she knew wasn't customary for her.
Instead of answering the question, Henry relaxed in his chair and looked toward the crowded ballroom. "I saw you watching the Indian servants. Curiosity? Intrigue? You're probably wondering why they're here. I'm guessing you've been to a social in this home before, but these particular servants weren't here and you're wondering why. Well, I can tell you. The eldest son of the Roderick family just returned from India last week."
Amala looked sharply toward Henry but he didn't seem to notice as he continued. "The servants you see wearing their native dress are very dear to him, and given the choice, they wished to remain with him and come to England."
"And you know this because ..." She purposely left the sentence unfinished.
"Howard Roderick has been my closest and dearest friend since we were children." He turned to look at Amala. "I went to India with him, and I too returned just six days ago."
Amala's vision blurred from the moisture that filled her eyes before she could even think to try to hold it back. The fragments of her heart that were forever tied to her homeland suddenly hung on every word that might come out of this man's mouth. The silence between them grew, but she couldn't speak without betraying how overcome she felt, and she didn't want to risk embarrassing herself.
Henry saved her when he said, "You told me you left India when you were a child. How much do you remember? I saw colors there like I've never seen in England — the flowers, the clothing, the decor. The streets of the cities were so noisy, but it wasn't at all the same kind of noise as the noise in the streets of London. The hills and valleys have a beauty there unlike anything that can be seen in this part of the world. And the —"
Amala was suddenly so overcome with emotion that she had only one thought. She had to get out of the room before she burst into childish sobbing. She didn't fully understand the source of the emotion roiling inside her, but its intensity was frightening, and she ran as if it might run after her like a wild animal in the woods. She ran through the huge open doors that led out onto an enormous veranda, and she kept running until she felt cool grass on her stockinged feet and realized she'd left her shoes beneath the chair. She slowed her pace and soon found a bench situated against some artistically trimmed shrubbery. She sat down and tried to catch her breath, all the while fighting to swallow back the emotion that had caught her off guard. This was neither the time nor the place to contend with such feelings.
"I seem to keep frightening you," Henry said, and she let out a breathy scream that verified the truth of his statement. Amala took a deep, sustaining breath, glad at least that it was dark. She was seated with the lanterns on the veranda behind her, which kept her face in the shadows, hopefully concealing any evidence of her emotion.
"Forgive me," she said, unable to think of a single word of explanation.
"I assume that something I said upset you," he said and sat down next to her. He held up her shoes, which were hanging from his fingers. "You forgot these."
"Oh, thank you," she said, taking them quickly to set them on the ground near her feet. "How silly you must have looked walking out of the ballroom carrying a pair of ladies' shoes."
He chuckled. "I doubt anyone noticed, but even if they did, what does it matter? Do you think I'll be the subject of gossip over tea tomorrow?" He raised his voice comically to mimic a woman. "'Oh, did you see the way he was carrying those shoes?'" He changed his tone only slightly to offer the other side of the imagined conversation. "'What on earth was he thinking to engage in such unseemly behavior? It's scandalous, I tell you. Utterly scandalous.'"
Amala couldn't help laughing, which eased her nerves and offered some perspective over her concerns. Following their laughter, a silence fell that threatened to become awkward until Henry asked, "How old were you when you came to England?"
"I was nine," she said. "And now I have spent more than half of my life in England."
"But still you don't feel English?" he guessed.
"In some ways I do," she admitted. "I've grown to love much about England, and I love my family. I am grateful every day that these good people made me a part of their family and brought me here. Otherwise ..." She cleared her throat and sought for different words. "As I understand it, my situation would have been extremely dreadful following my parents' deaths."
Amala looked directly away from Henry and let out a little laugh that stemmed more from embarrassment than any kind of humor. "And again I am talking too much."
"I want to hear you talk," he said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have asked. I find it ironic that I don't really ... well, I'm very glad to be back in England, and I don't ever intend to leave again. But I feel as if I left a part of myself behind in India; I will never be the same. Would it make me sound inane to admit that — after the years I lived there — a part of me feels ... Indian?"
Amala looked at him, hoping to be able to discern whether or not he really meant it. She was surprised that even in the shadows she could see — as much as she could feel — his sincerity.
"How long were you there?" she asked.
Excerpted from Color of Love by Anita Stansfield. Copyright © 2017 Anita Stansfield. Excerpted by permission of Covenant Communications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Love all of Anita Stansfield's books. This one is just one more testament to her talent of writing