Visnagar, India – 1802

The woman’s breath was heavy; voice coarse, rough, like monsoon winds blowing sand against a cliff wall.

“Kali,” the woman whispered, “you must go now, before they come for you. You and Kamala must go.”

Air blew hot as a leopard’s breath, forcing steam from the wastes the girl had sluiced again and again from her mother’s skin. The sandalwood smell of the rock hills infused the room, washing clean the scent of the next life, softening the sharp sounds of women gossiping in the rice fields, opening both minds mind to the cloudless sky. Over the chirrups and tittering of children running on the riverbank, the sound of a lonely girl chanting and keening slipped under the door from the next room.

“Mata, quiet yourself. Your mantra, Mata. Aum Namah Sivaaya.” She tugged the next of one-hundred-and-eight Bodhi beads through her mother’s grasping fingertips, counting prayers that would have no end. “Pray with me, Mata. Aum Namah Sivaaya.”

“They will never forgive your father, and the emperor will not shield you. You must take your sister and go to Mayuri in London. Go to the Vikanta. He will protect you. He has told me this a thousand times, Kali. You must take Kamala and go to Mayuri and the Vikanta.”

“How can I leave you, Mata, when you are my heart?” She washed drops of moisture from the woman’s brow, tipped drops of clear water between her lips. “Aum Namah Sivaaya. Sing it with me, Mata. Aum Namah Sivaaya.”

“The coffer buried under the rudraksha tree… Take it to Mayuri… She will find the Vikanta… go to the Vikanta.” The woman’s breath stopped in her throat, stealing the last of her secrets.

“Aum Namah Sivaaya.”

The girl’s tightly wound composure broke apart, became the milk and rice in the woman’s mouth, the gold coins between her fingers.

“Aum Namah Sivaaya.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks, showering stems of orchids woven through her mother’s hands, lilies coiled around her throat, lotus blossoms braided in her hair.

“Aum Namah Sivaaya.”

Kali closed the woman’s eyes and wept away the last of her gods, sang the last of the prayers she had been taught even before she was old enough to speak.

LDN-Cover-500x750Sired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends.

When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.


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