Imprisoned by a fanatical, corrupt maharajah in the torrid climes of 1910 India, Sarabande Swinford battles the maharajah's lust and another man's passions, all while desperately trying to regain her memory. She has forgotten her perilous adventures in both love and fortunes, but her intrepid spirit remains as she encounters jealousy in the harem, man- and woman-eating crocodiles, and venomous snakes, all in her attempts at escape.
Her defender in every potentially fatal situation is, surprisingly, the rajah, brother to the maharajah. Rami is all the maharajah is not: handsome and muscular, graceful, intelligent, and compassionate, a fitting challenge to Sary's spirited nature, a man well educated and well travelled in the world. But the real question is whether he can overcome his brother's hold on power and survive while rescuing Sary.
Read an Excerpt
I felt heat. I opened my eyes and wished I had not. I could see into the white heart of Hell — a wall of live flame dancing to the sky — the brilliance burning, burning, evaporating my garments.
I looked down. But what am I wearing? Through it, I could see my rosy nipples plainly. Confused. What are these diaphanous wisps whipping about in the vortex?
White silk, trimmed in red-gold of the setting sun. Or was that orange shimmer a reflection of the fire to which I was propelled — such a wispy barrier to the furnace before me.
Held by many arms, I twisted and turned, felt the sheen on my face, my body, as they, the unseen, prodded me toward the enormous pyre.
Yes, I whimpered. That was what it was. I recognized it now — a funeral pyre.
The blaze. The wood piled high, crisscrossed, like the stacking of a log cabin and narrowing at the top.
The conflagration had a mouth that roared and hissed my name. Flame-fingers snapped at the wisps trailing my feet. I touched my veil stuck with jewels. I could feel them cold, even in the intense heat, on top of carefully pomaded hair. I could smell the coconut oils. Oils to attract fire ...
A cloth-bound man lay atop the inferno. His chest was covered with yellow flowers. Hungrily licking tongues had not reached him yet.
I pushed back, skidding my heels in the earth. Many hands shoved me forward. The press of bodies, smells of perspiration, patchouli, sandalwood, and garlic smothered me.
No! I shouted. Already my face blistered. The least spark could catch my veil on fire.
"This is a mistake!" I screamed until acrid heat scorched my throat, choking my voice with cinders.
Still they relentlessly pushed. I was heating up hellishly now. I saw the edge of my sari flicker, spark, and flare.
"Stop it!" I screamed. "I will not follow! You have it wrong! I am not the one! A mistake! It isn't me!"
My clothes twisted around me then, binding me like a shroud as hands grabbed at me, mauling me this way and that. I could not breathe; the scalding air shimmered with sparks before my eyes ...
My veil, lifting in superheated air, loosened my hair and let it waft freely in the hellish updraft.
"Sary!" the flames called as they crackled and spat encouragingly. "Sa-ryyyyy. Cooooomme. ..."CHAPTER 2
I bolted upright, still feeling intense heat.
I squeezed my eyes tight, and then opened them quickly to see if the horrific view changed. No. Still veils upon veils — but cool veils, languidly drifting in a humid breeze from windows shaped curiously like keyholes, across a vast room. No flames, no scorching heat. I kicked at clinging sheets twining like damp coils of snakes.
"Where the pluperfect hell am I?"
Something filmy — a bed drape this time, lemony — the finest silk as blissful silk worms could possibly spin, floated across my eyes, obscuring my vision.
I swatted it irritably away. Something was terribly wrong.
But this is India, silly. Of course, I am overheated.
Oh, yes, India.
Why did that not seem strange?
"And why would I be here? Wherever here is!" I looked dazedly about. One mystery at a time, please. I somehow sensed it was not a fancy hotel or a private home.
My hand slapped a gleaming twisted trunk — a bedpost trying mightily to be a gilded tree, its branches forming a canopy of, yes, more silk, lofting lazily. Delicate gold formed twigs, each twig studded with gems, lest one's eyes, roving the ceiling, became bored.
I pushed off the bed, tumbling four feet with a spine-jarring thump. I sighed. Naturally, one does not take these silly steps, looking like a decorated cake, to get off the bed.
"This whole room was surely decorated by deranged angels besotted on fermented honey." I spoke aloud to ease suspicions I might not know exactly where I was.
Barefoot and naked, I raced across an acre of marble to the queerly shaped windows. Sultry air brushed my nose with frangipani and jasmine.
I felt a tickling on my neck.
Cold fingers teased my spine.
Suddenly aware of my nakedness, and crossing my arms over my breasts, I checked the endless room. Then I leaned out the window, shaped like an alabaster keyhole — to view a sixty-foot drop and twenty-foot walls that imprisoned acres of green velvet mazes, macaws in a breadfruit tree, and a fountain's lazy plish-plash.
I dropped back, disquieted.
It is a prison. I stand here as God made me. And someone watches.
Flipping my tangle of hair, I knotted a sheet at one shoulder, and pattered across to a wood door that looked like it might have been formed from the ark. "Hey!" I pounded. "Blast it!" I tensed at a low grunting as if someone on the other side breathed through his mouth.
Yanking at the door, I fell onto a man imitating a wall, or at least another door. Five feet tall, four feet wide, mostly shoulder and hard belly, and naked save for pantaloons tucked between beefy legs and a curved sword with nothing ornamental about it.
Eyes black as currants in a pudding face, blank as a windup toy, gazed stolidly back.
Somehow I knew what he was by the breast-like pouches where his muscles should be. A eunuch.
Mute, the eunuch placed one blocky hand on my chest and shoved me back.
"Hey! You blasted — you great — you plug-ugly — you — !" I kicked more from nerves than anything else. He didn't move. "Ow-waw!" I hopped on one foot. "Dad blast it!" It was like kicking a tree stump.
In answer, he swung the door closed in my face. A lock grated like an iron hand fitting into a mesh glove.
"Well, that went well." I kicked at the door — but gently, sensing my guard dog was indeed a tree, rooted until moved, and had no authority to release me. I studied the room resembling something from the Arabian Nights, or a brothel — an expensive brothel.
"Buck up, girl! Get some sand."
I heard the words from someone I once knew, yet the name, the face remained scarily, stubbornly blank.
"I have 'sand'!" I gritted.
Whoever you are, an imp smirked.
My head swam. The overbearing room glittered and whirled. Still, smarting from bruised toes, it was too real to be a dream. I was suddenly hungry — hungry as one who hadn't eaten in days.
Still that prickling sensation of being watched. Irritating as all get-out!
I looked behind me — at the ceiling, cradling my arms over the armor of my sheet, gazing at carved friezes of fanciful birds and flowers embellishing even the ungodly ceiling.
* * *
Close-set flat black eyes watched the pale-haired woman through a spy hole set among those same carved lotuses and fanciful birds. The immensely fat man, supreme despot of the vast northern province, had struggled down onto his knees, blaming the woman below for his humiliating position. "At least she's stirring," he grumbled. Yet, he gurgled softly, "does not a bit of spying add spice for the meal that is to come?"
At the faint sound of laughter, the woman below frowned at the ceiling with eyes of startling green, as luminous as water, and terribly keen.
The maharajah flinched as if she judged him. He rejected that notion. Good, good. He liked them that way. Cowed. Afraid of his mighty sword ...
He giggled again, but softly.
* * *
"Silly goose. No one is here!" I checked the ceiling again. I wondered if I should scream.
Then, glimpsing a riot of silks through an archway, I slipped into a dressing room crammed with embroidered slippers, drawers spilling over with jeweled pins, combs, and gaggles of bracelets and earrings; I grabbed a silk thing in panicked indecision and plainer slippers and fled. I needed food, but first a bath, sensing I had not bathed recently either, judging from the musky sheen on my body.
Through another arch, I stared at flagons of perfumed oils and baskets of lemons ranged about a mosaic pool as large as a pond and fitted with spouts resembling golden frogs with jeweled eyes. "What is this — a dad-blasted bawdy house?"
I halted, wondering at my speech. Dad-blast? Where had that come from? How do I recognize a bawdy house, elegant, over-decorated, or otherwise? Was I one of ... one of those?
* * *
The ungainly man shuffled to the other peephole above the bathing pool. Drool fell from his meaty chin as his flat black eyes looked directly down on the female, viewing two glistening breasts rounded above the water, shiny pink points of knees and shimmering hair piled in a mass of curls like pale wood shavings.
He edged around the hole, trying to see her face, that which he could see — fierce golden brows drawn to a scowl, straight nose over a pouty rosy mouth, as she contemplated her surroundings, tapping fingers on the edge of the pool.
His lustful gaze traveled her slim back as she leaned for an oil flask. He frowned. She had an odd puckered scar on her shoulder! Ugly! He thrust out a lower lip, resembling a boiled sweet. She was not perfect. Ah, well, it scarce mattered for his purposes — but still ...
He petulantly wiped his mouth, unconscious of the puddle beneath his chin, re-fixing his eye to the spy hole. "Ah, yes!" he breathed. Her rounded bottom was the color of two ripe peaches above long slim white legs as she climbed out and roughly toweled her feet dry.
Yes, she would do nicely. His plump hands knotted in anticipation.
He relished the way her taut thighs, smooth as cream velvet, met in the middle, cupping that sweet delta covered with downy yellow fluff like a baby chick's.
The legs were too long and slim for the torso. That was how he preferred them, though — long. Long legs were more — he choked a laugh — acrobatic.
Her breasts lifted as she thrust up her hair and allowed the silken waterfall to drop in a platinum tangle.
How dare she entice him, the sluttish baggage! She did that gesture deliberately to enflame him!
Scowling, the maharajah screwed his eye tighter to the hole and viewed her cheeky bottom once again as she bent to pick up the towel, showing off a scut of peach silk. "Oh, most certainly seducing me! She will pay for her shameless ways!"
Of course she knew he was watching. His nether regions stirred from — if truth be broadcast about — a very long slumber.
He giggled again.
She'd be the one to awaken him.
The pink-soled feet slapping across chill marble below left damp prints as the maharajah of all Bharatpur began the laborious undertaking of getting back up onto his own swollen feet. His effort was rather like that needed to place an elephant in a sling.
Quite ready for afternoon tea, he decided, already conjuring up hot English scones, five or six at least, lavished with thick clotted cream, strawberry conserves, and heavily sweetened chai ...
"Only thing superior about the invading Brits," he sniffed, pushing up from one elbow. "High cream tea!" He giggled, halting as he viewed sturdy arched feet planted before him, hearing an impatient, "Tcha!"
"Supposed I might find you here." His devastatingly handsome brother drawled, watching him struggle to his feet.
The fat man stiffened. "I need no aid, brother. I can scarce rise with you standing there like the great Lord Shiva." He snarled, getting one plump knee under him, and gasping like a fish, managed to lever himself up. "How dare you spy on me!"
The striking man, raising one dark brow, ironically toed the spy hole in the floor.
"Paaah! I was merely seeing if she was ready. I am indeed growing impatient. As a lusty and virile man, I have special needs. Have a care, brother!"
The rajah watched his elder brother waddle off and, once he'd vanished, rolling his eyes at his own voyeurism, strolled to the spy hole.
The exquisite man's burnished walnut face seemed made for seduction, for subtropical nights and indolent days filled with the most sensual appetites bordering on the prohibited, not for lurking in niches — or anywhere, for that matter. A man who strode, sat upright, lounged gracefully, and did all with purpose and unintended flair.
However, now that broad-shouldered man lay flat on the coolness of the stone in a very un-princely fashion.
The woman below stilled like a doe in the woods.
Feeling ludicrous, the rajah effortlessly rose.
Disturbed, he touched himself briefly as if gentling a wild stallion and nodded a salute to the woman below with a certain melancholy.
"Mayhap this exquisite creature, if she is fortunate, will not have so much trouble after all ..."
* * *
I glided to a vanity, muttering, "This bloody vanity is six feet long, with a mirror that outshines bleeding bloody Versailles!" I was nervy. I knew it.
Dabbling in caskets of face paint to quell unease and take my mind off my empty stomach, I finally raised my eyes and took stock.
The face staring back was terrifyingly unfamiliar.
Who am I?
Oval face. Pointy chin.
Full mouth darker than a tea rose, tucked into folds like half a dimple. High cheeks. Narrow nose. Nothing to write home about there. A bump on one side as if broken at one time — but it was the great troubled green eyes staring back that arrested me.
The eyes. Faintly familiar. True green, not hazel or flecked with yellow or blue but luminous, like sunlight through waves. Not too unattractive, I thought.
I peered closer at the wavery image. "I know this face." I had looked into these same eyes in a looking glass — somewhere.
"My name is Sary ...," I breathed. "I'm Sary. I am called Sary!" But Sary what?
Congratulations, my disagreeable imp goaded me. You know your name.
"No. That's not right." I pressed my nose to the glass as if I could see the other side ...my other self. "My real name is Sarabande. I think."
I sighed. Further knowledge retreated into shadows on the other side of the looking glass and could not be coaxed back.
Restless and troubled, I held up lengths of silk I thought were called saris — why did they seem familiar? I experimented with hairpins and tiara-like things with bangles over the eyes, and a profusion of massive neckpieces, and finally shoulder-knotted diaphanous peach silk in time to hear the lock cracking like a walnut, and the wall of a eunuch ushered in a pretty little thing with a small burn scar on her cheek.
She set down a tray of food and scurried off while I gawped like an idiot.
"Wait! Don't leave! Who — ?"
The girl looked back curiously before the eunuch hustled her out. "Asha," the girl, casting worried eyes at the eunuch, whispered.
"Hey there! Wait ...! Damnation!" I stamped my foot as the door slammed shut.
I wandered back, troubled. Deciding I was starving, I inspected the tray. Chicken in a spicy cream sauce. Crispy bread. Almonds, dates, a fruit much like peaches, and heavily sugared spiced tea. Heaven! I halved the peach thing, staring at my nails as I did so.
I kept them clipped. Now my nails were noticeably longer. I knew this instinctively. A time-marker, of sorts, indicating weeks. How odd. Now I was afraid.
* * *
His brother's face held the same gloating triumph as it had when he was a boy setting fire to a trail of ants.
"I of course do not question you, brother," the rajah soothed. "Yet would it not be wise —"
"Hah. What care I for the English? I could have her shot or hung or ..."
"Of course," he said patiently. "Yet the woman may not be English. I detect no accent. She may be some one — diplomatically important. She may be —"
"So much the better. A nobody!" The maharajah sprayed crumbs. "No one will miss her." The maharajah returned to his afternoon tea. The rajah looked away. His brother had a huge clot of strawberry jam dripping from his chin.
Slathering cream on the fourth scone, the maharajah — now it resembled an enormous boil — crooned complacent. "We shall see how she pleases me and if she pleases me — ultimately." He giggled, taking on a sly coy cast, which set the rajah's teeth on edge.
"As you will," he answered tightly, hiding his disgust.
"Yes! You seem to forget that!" The maharajah's words came, muffled and petulant, through the loaded scone, and wiping his hands on the seat cushion, he waved his troublesome brother off.
Tonight would be her undoing. Tonight he would show the uppity sorceress what a real man was!
* * *
Just dusk, when the sky turned limpid turquoise, after a scrabbling of the locks, as if rats gnawed on metal cheese, my eunuch-bulldog stumped in, staring stolidly.
I clutched my sheets. I had been moping in bed, planning fanciful escapes — and/or murdering the eunuch with a hairpin. Groping for something heavy, I scowled at him, who might have changed his mind regarding women in general. Instead, women flooded in bearing boxes and pots.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sary and the Maharajah's Emeralds"
Copyright © 2018 Sharon Shipley.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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.