It's Excerpt Monday over at the Romance Divas. For today's treat, I thought I'd share the prologue for my first historical romance, written under my alias, Katherine Brandon, for The Wild Rose Press. I hope you'll enjoy it.
In a glistening castle spun from vapor and dreams, Kismet, the goddess of fate, sits upon her celestial throne. While she awaits word from her handmaidens, her fingers drum the armrest, scattering astral dust into perfumed air.
At last the dark-haired Rosamond, mistress of the virtuous, flutters into the chamber and makes her obeisance. “She has arrived, Peerless One,” her melodic voice sings. “Nearly a month too soon.”
“Nevertheless,” Kismet replies, a gentle chastisement, “she is welcome.”
Rising in the mauve sky, the goddess transmutes to pour as incandescent gold into the viewing room. While a cluster of lovely women watches, the light grows denser until the goddess returns to her opaque form. “Where is she, Rosamond?”
“Hyderabad, India, Peerless One. On earth, the year is 1793.”
From her special aperture, Kismet searches the blue planet, but discerns nothing save darkness and rain. A wave of her hand sends a flash of lightning to hurtle downward, illuminating the earthen sky and a ramshackle cottage’s occupant...
Summer lightning speared the gloomy room, startling Ahmed Manu from his chair. He trudged to the window and lifted a trembling hand to the ragged curtain. Nothing stirred but the banyan trees, shuddering beneath the wind’s fury, weeping in grief.
I will not cry. He dropped the curtain. I will not cry.
What would become of him now? Only Kismet knew what the Nizam would do when he learned of his favorite child’s death. The hairs on the back of Ahmed’s neck prickled at the imagined cold steel of a royal executioner’s axe.
Outside, thunder rumbled, combining with the low thud of approaching hooves.
Inhaling courage from the storm, he opened the scarred wooden door. The wind whipped, and the force knocked Ahmed against the wall. On the heels of the gusts, a man raced inside.
“Sarita!” The man removed his sodden cloak, tossing it on the chair before turning to Ahmed. “Where is she? Where is my wife? Is she well?”
Dropping his gaze to the rainwater pooling on the dirt floor, Ahmed choked out the dreadful words. “She--she is dead, Louis. And the child with her.”
“Dead?” The pain in Louis’s voice tore into him like talons. “No, she can’t be.”
I will not cry...
“I-I’m sorry. The midwife did all she could. But the babe was too big. Sarita could take no more.”
“Our child,” Louis murmured. “Was it a son or a daughter?”
“The babe was a girl. She never took a breath. Now she sleeps in her mother’s arms for eternity.” Ahmed dared not look at Louis, couldn’t bear to see the agony his words inflicted. He’d made Sarita a promise--his very last service to his beloved princess. Despite the wrongness of it, he’d hold fast to his vow. “Your wife’s only thoughts were of you. She insisted you leave India before the Nizam learns of our tragedy.”
“I would see them first.” Louis strode toward the bedchamber. “I would say goodbye.”
Panic welled. Ahmed leaped to place his hands flat upon the man’s chest, halting any forward motion. “Sarita did not wish you to see her in death. As for the child, your loss will be easier to bear if you’ve never seen her. A faceless memory does not linger.”
As if voicing displeasure, the winds howled and rattled the door. Another stab of remorse pierced Ahmed’s heart. Why had Sarita heaped such a large burden upon him? How long could he keep his secret from Louis’s acute senses? In an effort at distraction, he reached for the sodden cloak still draped over the chair. Rainwater rolled off the garment and splashed onto his bare feet, the rhythm of tears.
I will not cry...
Pulling the grief-stricken man forward, he wrapped the cloak around him. “I’ve secured your passage onboard a merchantman, The Christman. She leaves on the morning tide for Batavia. From there, you must find your way home.”
“Home?” Louis’s dirt-streaked face clouded with grief. “I no longer have a home. Sarita was my home.”
Guilt sliced Ahmed in half. Before he broke and allowed the truth to escape, he led Louis out into the maelstrom. Hard rain pinged his cheeks as he helped Louis mount the saddled horse still standing in the midst of the deluge. “May Kismet smile upon you always, sir,” he shouted above the monsoon’s wind.
Slapping the beast on the rump, he sent horse and rider away. When their shadows disappeared in the dark and rain, he sloshed through ankle-deep mud to return to the house. Once the door closed on nature’s fury, he pressed his dripping head to the rough wood. The deed was done.
A mewling cry broke from the bedchamber. Ahmed hurried into the room, careful to avert his gaze from the lifeless body lying atop blood-soaked bedclothes. The cries grew louder when he lifted a swaddled bundle from a wooden cradle at the bedside.
He removed the blanket covering the child’s head and kissed the feathery hair. “Hush, my little princess,” he crooned, rubbing the infant’s back. “All will be well. Did I not promise your beautiful mother I’d take care of you? Uncle Ahmed is here. I’ll always be here. Don’t cry.”
Unbidden, the litany began again in his brain. I will not cry. I will not cry...
At last the babe quieted and snored against his neck. Only then did he allow the tears to slide down his cheeks. He cried until he was completely devoid of moisture as the storm clouds outside did the same.
And don't forget to check out a few more excerpts, available through the Excerpt Monday list! These talented authors would love to share their genius with you. Need a few recommendations?
For another take on historical, try Kaige's excerpt from The Flower Queen's Daughter.
Inez Kelly's got a great rom-com excerpt from Jinxed.
Like a little suspense with your romance? Then check out Annie Nicholas's Bait.
For a hotter historical read, pop over to Vivienne Westlake's blog for an excerpt from Secrets Uncovered (over the age of 21 only please!)
And if you're looking for a middle grade adventure, you can't go wrong with Ansha Kotyk's Gangsterland.
Enjoy the samples and be sure to drop a note to the authors to let them know how much you liked their work. Monday Pop Quiz will return next week, so be ready!