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About the author:
By contributing to my income through a purchase, you make it possible for me to spend more time writing new novels for you to enjoy. As a portion of the profits of my sales do go to charity, you are also placing yourself 2 degrees of separation from being a philanthropist!
What inspired you to write your book?
There’s a lot of sex in this book but I don’t feel like it’s just gratuitious…ok so maybe some of it is. (laugh) I still like to believe that because our two lovers in this story are so mentally and emotionally scarred that it’s sometimes the only way they can communicate with each other – through physicality.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Qing Dynasty, Imperial China.
The night was dark and noisy, lit intermittently by the lanterns that hung outside of the dwellings and trade stalls that surrounded The Forbidden City, full of the boisterous harking of vendors as they tried to sell the last of their wares before they packed up for the night and went home.
Although Phong Quay had come to find the palace operative, he had instead ended up following her. He had been following her for the better part of an hour now.
Just what are you up to? he wondered as he continued to dog her steps, found himself somehow inextricably, inexplicably compelled to do so.
Only an hour before, Quay had been in the clearing just outside of the rear wall of the palace complex. He had been waiting for the perfect moment to scale the high outer wall himself when he first saw the figure, in a long hooded cloak, moving along the top of it.
Quay had quickly dissipated into the cover of the forest, his ever watchful eyes trained on the figure above. A grappling hook appeared from underneath the figure’s cloak. It was fastened securely, tested for hold before a long, dark, knotted rope was tossed down the side of the wall.
Quay smirked. There was no way, at that pace, that whomever it was would make it out of the palace before the Imperial Guard made their next rounds.
Still, he watched, fascinated, as the figure slowly made the perilous descent down the rope. A couple of times the figure lost its footing. Just when Quay was certain it would plunge to the earth a heap of bloody, broken bones, it would regain its hold, clinging to the rope for a long moment as though it were embracing a long lost love. Regaining composure, the slow descent would begin anew.
At last, near the bottom, the figure surrendered its hold, jumping to the ground. It stood now, dusting off its hands, shaking what dirt it could from the cloak.
Although by Quay’s estimations the Imperial Guard should have come this way at least three times by now, they never showed. As the figure stealthily made its way across the bridge and over the moat, Quay peered to the left for a time then to the right. No one. He scowled.
Where the hell is everybody? he wondered. He shook his head. As always, it was so nice to see the people’s taxes so hard at work, so good to know that the Imperial system of corruption and bribery was still as solid as it had ever been.
Quay returned his attention to the figure. It had made it across the bridge without incident and was heading towards the surrounding city. He squinted his eyes. A woman? Yes, it was definitely a woman. Perhaps it was the palace operative?
Quay smiled. He certainly hoped it was. She was already proving to be much more interesting than he had initially expected.
He had stood stock still, pondering his next move as the woman carefully surveyed her surroundings. Seeming to sense somehow that she was being watched, the woman had turned suddenly towards Quay’s hiding place. Quay, however, had already managed to dematerialize behind a tree, unseen, as her eyes scanned the darkness just beyond him. Although Quay knew he was well out of view, he found himself somehow slightly unnerved by the weight of her invisible stare.
He listened. She was finally moving away.
Quay quickly contemplated his next move. As it was quite obvious she did not want anyone to know she was away from the palace and as he sure as hell didn’t want anyone to know he was there either, he decided it was best to refrain from physically approaching her just then. He also dared not call to her or by other means try to attract her attention. His unexpected presence might alarm her causing her – intentionally or not – to give them both away.
Of course, he could certainly end this now, steal quietly back to camp before anyone even realized he had gone. Still, if he did so, he would do so without ever having gotten the reassurances that had brought him there in the first place, and he would surely not be able to rest easy until he had.
That left him with only one choice: to follow her. He would follow her to see where it was she was going and if she proved to be who he had assumed she was, when it was safe for them both, he would make his presence known.
So here Quay found himself now, continuing to shadow the woman as she navigated the narrow, stone streets.
Though from his vantage point he managed glimpses here and there of her hands and the feminine curve of her form, she never once removed her hood. Her face was in fact well hidden by it. The bottom edge of the cloak could not, however, hide the expensive silk shoes that covered her feet.
Phong Quay’s eyes narrowed. Perhaps she had grown too comfortable at the palace.
Suddenly the woman stopped moving. Something had caught her eye. She gingerly picked up the lovely trinket, examining it carefully as the newly optimistic vendor began his sales pitch – a string of overly animated, flowery prose about her obvious impeccable taste and the object’s beauty, value and origins. His efforts, however, went largely unreceived by his potential customer, so fascinated was she by the thing. The vendor, however, not one to be discouraged, continued his pitch.
Quay smirked. He did not fail to notice that as the vendor spoke, he was discretely assessing the girl’s attire, the wheels in his head turning as he calculated the true price of the piece versus what he thought he might be able to persuade her to pay. And unlike Quay, the vendor had indeed found favor in the expense of her footwear.
At last, seemingly satisfied with her appraisal, the woman turned to the vendor, interrupting him mid-sentence. The price he replied to her inquiry had to be at least four times what he had paid for the thing! Obviously no fool, she began to bargain.
In spite of his misgivings, Quay’s dark eyes twinkled with amusement, a small smile flitting across his lips as he watched her now. As relentless as the man was in driving home his price, she was even more so. She gave not an inch until the weary, desperate man finally agreed to her proposed price… if only to get rid of her.
Quay watched as her slender hand disappeared into the cloak. The small trinket and the money exchanged hands. The woman turned now and Quay slid into the shadows. She held the trinket up to a nearby lantern, a self appreciating smile playing on the generous fullness of her lips as she admired its beauty.
Smug as well, Quay thought with a smile.
The more he watched her, the more he found himself intrigued by her and he had yet to even see her face. Still, if those delectable lips were any indication of the rest of her…..
The sudden scream caught them both off guard. The woman turned towards the noise. There was a crowd gathering now and she instinctively ran towards it. Quay followed her.
In the middle of the mass of peasants was a girl, barely in her teens. She appeared to be one of the bastard children of the foreign soldiers who frequented the palace. The peasants were cursing the girl, shoving her, throwing small rocks at her, spitting at her. The more hysterical the girl became, the more it fed the swelling madness.
Quay looked to the operative. He could read her fear, revulsion and confusion in her tense form. She stood now rooted, as if unable to move.
Stonings hardly being his cup of tea, Quay decided it was time to end his little game of cat and mouse. He began forcing his way through the crowd towards the operative. He needed to speak with her himself, to be sure that the San Chau weren’t just walking into a trap.
He was less than a few yards away from her when he saw her shoulders drop, her hands clenching into fists as she took a step forward. His eyes narrowed. What was she doing?! If she dared interfere, the now blood mad mob would not hesitate to turn on her as well!
He added a new adjective to his mental assessment of the operative: reckless.
Urgently, Quay shoved his way to her side. Grabbing her arm, he forcefully pulled her back through the crowd. She was fighting him, struggling futilely to break his iron grasp. Though a few of the onlookers turned briefly to glance at the two of them, they seemed too absorbed in the frenzy in front of them to care.
Forcing the woman down a dead end alley, he pulled her in front of him, placing himself between her and the exit. She stared at him for a long moment before her eyes drifted to the wide gap between his right shoulder and the wall. Her eyes returned to him again, sizing him up as she removed a small dagger from hiding.
Quay smirked. “I wouldn’t if I were you,” he warned.
“Maybe you wouldn’t,” she replied. “But then it’s a good thing you’re not me isn’t it?”
She made a run for it. Quay, however, was far too quick. He easily regained control of her. In desperation, she tried to stab him but he caught hold of her wrist. He squeezed it so tightly that she cried out in pain and dropped her weapon. Effortlessly lifting her over his shoulder, he carried her deeper into the alley.
“Let go of me,” the strange woman demanded, finding that she did not have the strength to free herself but not willing to give up the struggle. Even her grabbing a handful of his loose, waist length hair and yanking at it did not seem to phase him.
Unprying her fingers from his hair, he set her down again. He forced her hands behind her back, pinning her body against his. She was glaring at him now, her chest heaving. Transferring both of her wrists to one hand, Quay reached for her hood.
“No!” she cried, managing to jerk one hand free. He easily blocked it and pulled back the hood anyway.
He looked now upon her face, his expression betraying his surprise. It was in that very moment that he knew. It had not been the palace operative with which he had become so intrigued but the very woman, the very reason for him seeking out the operative. It was her. It was Ni Soung, one of Emperor Ni Fehn’s daughters – the jewel of his collection.
Phong Quay’s heart pounded like mad in his chest and for once it had nothing to do with the adrenaline of danger or the vigor of sex. He felt himself, for the first time in a very long time, begin to become aware of something else beneath the pounding – a deep, dull, bottomless pain, a pain he had long ago laid to rest. Or so he had let himself believe. And this woman, Princess Ni Soung, had been a primary cause of that pain.
It had been at least eight years since he had seen her last. No, that wasn’t quite true. He had seen her again a few years later – an angry silhouette in the pale lantern light. Still, the sight of Soung at almost thirteen and the shadow of Soung at near seventeen were nothing compared to what she had become. As a child she had been pretty, but as a woman, as a woman she was exquisite.
But why was she here now like this? he asked himself, her large, almond-shaped hazel eyes flashing at him like burning emeralds. What madness could have possibly embraced her now that she would so openly risk exposure? Probably the same madness that has induced her to leave the safety of the palace on her own, his mind replied. And just where the hell was Akiko?
If no one else knew where Soung was, Akiko should have known. She should have been there with Soung. Even under the best of circumstances the Emperor had many enemies and it was a well accepted fact that the Princess Soung was the Emperor’s favorite by far. At least that was what everyone was lead to believe.
Quay, however, knew differently. He knew that Soung was just another toy to Fehn, just another trophy to bandy about whenever it suited him, just another pawn to manipulate – bait.
Still, knowing now who the woman was, knowing what she was, did not stop her glossy black hair from beckoning to Quay like the waves of an angry sea. Not to mention the effect her full, inviting mouth was having upon him. Though her lips moved he heard not one word she said.
Trying to regain his focus, Quay’s eyes returned to hers. Alluring as they were, her eyes could not fully distract him from the feel of her body against his. She was taller than most of the Chinese women that he had encountered in his life, and her frame was more ample in a very feminine, very enticing way. Of course her incessant wriggling against him in her pitiful efforts to escape did little in the way of curbing the derailment of his focus. One could hardly expect his attraction to her to be stayed, especially with the way she was struggling against him.
Quay stared again at her mouth, forced himself to concentrate on what she was saying.
“Are you deaf?!” she was saying now. “I said unhand me this instant!”
Quay smiled, his dark, twinkling eyes rising to bore into hers. “No and no,” he replied.
“I’ll scream,” she threatened.
“Be my guest,” he said, amused. “You think anyone’ll hear you?”
Ni Soung scowled at him.
“Besides…” He tilted his head in the direction from which they had just come, “Do you really want one of them to come to your aid?”
“But they’ll kill her,” Soung said evenly.
“Perhaps,” Quay relented, “but how is that your concern?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“That it could be you there just as easily as her.”
Ni Soung’s eyes widened sarcastically.
Quay laughed. He could not help but to enjoy this spirited creature. She was nothing like the polite, obedient girls with which the provinces were far too over-populated. No, his Soung was still just as untamed as he remembered her. In spite of everything that had happened, he was glad at least that Fehn had failed in his quest to break her, that he had not broken her.
“If I help her,” he asked, “will you stay out of it?”
Quay released her. He watched, smiling, as she made a big show of dusting him off of her. She stilled, her gaze returning to his face. She cleared her throat, tilted her head in the direction from which they had just come.
Quay bowed slightly in a mockery of royal protocol before he turned. He headed back in the direction of the mob.
Ni Soung tugged the hood back over her face. She was following him.
Quay stopped and turned to face her. “Go home,” he said.
“Oh so I’m to trust your word?” she asked derisively.
He found himself chuckling once more.
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “I’m glad you find me so amusing at a time like this,” she said folding her arms across her chest.
“You have my word that I will save the girl,” he said.
“And what’s the word of a man I’ve never met before?” she asked. “I don’t even know your name.”
Quay smiled, pondered but for a moment that she didn’t seem to recognize him. He had changed quite a bit in the last 8 years. It was also, after all, her way – to forget. It was how she survived.
It was also for the best that she did not know him. The memories of the past were still too jagged to bring anything more than pain.
“It’s Choi Do,” he replied.
“I’m Shau Qa,” the girl offered.
Why you little liar, Quay thought, not bothering to hide his widening smile. “Well, Shau Qa,” he said, “now you know my name and you have my word.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon trust my own eyes before your word.”
Quay laughed heartily at that one. “Alright,” he conceded. “Just stay out of sight.”
Quay watched as Soung moved into the shadows – out of sight, then he made his way through the mob towards its center. The girl was lying on the ground now, curled up like a small child in an effort to protect her head and face.
“Show’s over folks,” Quay quipped. He went to the girl, lifting her easily in his arms.
The mob protested noisily.
Her curiosity piqued by the ruckus and her view obscured, Soung forced her way back through the throng towards the clearing in the middle. A few men from the mob had stepped menacingly towards Choi Do and the bundle in his arms.
“Stand aside,” Quay stated simply.
The mob was floored by his audacity. Soung, however, was fascinated, her heart pounding excitedly in her chest. Could this handsome rake be capable of more than just manhandling women?
The men charged him. Without even setting the girl down or freeing his hands, Quay fought them. As the men before him fell, more men moved into the fray. He moved with an animal like grace, his full mouth set in a determined line, his long loose hair flying about as he fought, those almost unfathomably hypnotic eyes of his stormy.
He was beautiful. Yes, very much so. Still, there was something deeper, something else about him, something gnawing at the edges of her memory like a half forgotten dream. Although she could not put her finger on it, there was something very…. familiar about him.
And while it was true she could not recall where they had met before or even if they had actually met at all, she had an overwhelming feeling about him, like she knew him. Still, he had not batted an eyelash when she had lied about her name nor had he given any reaction any more extraordinary than any other man might have given her under similar circumstances. Surely he would have seized upon the opportunity afforded him by prior acquaintanceship if it existed….wouldn’t he’ve?
Soung shook her head, banishing such foolish thoughts as she returned her attention to the fray. Though extraordinary, he was just a man, like any other. Yes, he was a welcomed change from the overly pampered, boringly mannered courtiers who constantly sought to woo her and thus gain her father’s favor but there was nothing more to it than that. It’s nothing more than a strong physical attraction, she told herself, only half believing her own propaganda.
It was not long before all of the men who had challenged Quay lay in the dirt inside of the crowd, coughing and groaning in pain. Quay stomped forward with one foot and the crowd parted. He quickly carried the semi-conscious girl through the opening, Soung right there at his heels.
“This way,” she said, moving in front of him.
“I thought I told you to stay out of sight,” he said.
She turned to face him. “Have you not figured out yet that I do as I please?” She could hear him chuckle as she turned and quickly led the way through the labyrinth of alleyways.
“Here,” she said sprinting up the steps to a nearby dwelling. She pounded on the door. Quay could hear the sound of movement from within.
“I’m coming. I’m coming,” a scratchy voice called out to them.
The outer door swung open. A stooped, ancient man was standing there holding a lantern. Soung threw back her hood.
“Your highness,” the man said prostrating himself on the ground before her.
She threw Quay a sidelong glance. One of his eyebrows had shot up questioningly although his face wore an expression of amusement. She stooped and helped the man stand.
“We need your help, Quin Tong,” she said gesturing to Quay and the groaning bundle in his arms.
“Yes, yes,” the old man replied. “Come in.”
The three newcomers entered the dwelling as Quin Tong latched the outer door behind them.
“Your highness?” Phong Quay whispered in her ear as they waited for Quin Tong to come back and direct them.
Soung turned to face Quay, speaking in hushed tones. “Dr. Quin is a physician who used to work for my father – a very wealthy court official and he…well, he has his peculiarities.”
“Dr. Quin?” Quay asked amused.
“No!” Soung whispered sharply. “My father! He was a bit of a narcissist.”
“Is,” Ni Soung corrected. “Nothing dangerous. No threat to the empire in the least, just self-important.”
Phong Quay smiled. Still a damned good liar.
“Mistress,” the old man said coming in front of them. “This way.”
They followed him to a cozy little room where Quay carefully lay the girl down. Soung reached into her cloak and pulled out money. She offered it to the old man just as he finished adjusting the bedding to make the girl more comfortable.
The old man waived the money away. “Oh no, your highness. That is not necessary.”
“For medicine,” she pressed, “and lodging until she’s back on her feet.”
The man bowed to her once more and graciously accepted the money.
Soung gestured to Quay with a tilt of her head that it was time to leave. “We must go now,” she said to the old man. “The hour grows late.”
The man nodded. “I’ll see you out.”
At the door, Ni Soung replaced her hood over her face. “Thank you, Quin Tong,” she said.
The old man nodded. “I am always at your service, Your Highness,” the man said bowing once more.
Soung shot Quay another side long glance and shrugged. He chuckled silently.
As the outer door closed and latched behind them, Ni Soung descended the stairs, Phong Quay just behind her.
“Well, Your Highness,” Phong Quay said amused, “may I escort you home?”
Soung turned back towards him. She studied him for a long moment, considering it. Even knowing what a disaster that could turn out to be, something in her wanted her to say yes.
Instead, regaining control of her impulses, she shook her head. “No,” she said, “that won’t be necessary.”
He closed the distance between them until they were as close as two people could stand without actually touching. His beguiling eyes were twinkling again. “Can’t blame a man for trying,” he said.
Something in the way he was staring at her cut her to the core. It disturbed her. Soung pulled her gaze away from him, turned away. “That was very brave what you did back there,” she said.
He smiled knowingly. “It was nothing more than any good servant would have done for His Highness.”
She laughed, turning back to face him.
“Besides,” he continued, “it’s nothing you wouldn’t have done.”
She shook her head and smiled. “I don’t think that either one of us would have made it if I had tried to do what you did.”
“You never know,” he replied returning her smile.
There it was again, that something in his yes. Her heart began to pound wildly in her chest. Her smile faded, her breath catching in her throat. “I do,” she whispered breathlessly, “but thank you for saying so anyway.”
“You’re welcome,” he answered just as softly, one of his hands coming to push a stray strand of hair away from her face.
Her heart was pounding loudly in her ears. She swallowed passed the lump in her throat. “You’re dangerous,” she whispered.
“You have no idea,” he replied.
Soung’s lips parted in response. She hadn’t felt so very, very drawn to a man in a very, very long time. It didn’t make any sense. Yes, he was beautiful but she had known other beautiful men before. Not as beautiful as he, her mind retorted.
Still, this was not like her. She hardly even knew him, yet, gods help her, she felt a powerful, reckless attraction to him. The way he was looking at her now did little to stem the stirrings, the way he was pulling her into him with those dark, hypnotic eyes of his.
She forced herself to take an unsteady step backward, closing her eyes briefly as she fought to break his spell. When she looked back up at him, he was smiling a crooked little smile at her.
She couldn’t help but smile back at him. His smile was infectious. “Good night, Choi Do,” she said.
“Good night, Shau Qa,” he replied, the smile still etched on his handsome features.
She took a few more steps backward before she turned and started towards the palace. He stood, watching her go.
Ni Soung turned suddenly. “We’ll meet again,” she called smilingly.
Phong Quay nodded.
Her smile widened. She turned and ran.
Quay’s smile disappeared almost as quickly as it had come. “We most definitely will meet again,” he said under his breath, “only I don’t think you’ll be so glad to see me.”