Monday, 5 October 2015

Guest blog: Suzie Kolber - Choosing a Template for your Family Tree

If you are tracing family history, you need an easy way to record your information. While you may keep a vast file online or on paper for the in-depth details, a quick visual is ideal when you want to know the basics. A family tree template can be kept in plain sight and reviewed quickly to see which person you are currently researching.

Regardless of the reason you are doing research into your family, you can benefit from a family tree template. However, the one you select will vary based on the actual project, the reason behind it and how much information you are gathering. Here are some tips to help you choose the right template.
Why Are You Researching?

The first question you want to answer is why you are doing this research into your family history. If it is for a gift for someone or as a class project, you will want to choose a template that is stylish and displays the information in a decorative format. You may even want to choose a family tree template that provides enough room for photos.

For a project that is based on your desire to learn about your family history, you can select a simpler template. Choose one that allows you to record a few basic details such as dates of birth, marriage and death or locations. This eliminates the need to go through your research for every little statistic.
How Many Generations Are You Studying?

The template you choose will depend on how many generations you are including. If you are using the family tree as a gift for someone, you may only need a three- or four-generational template. On the other hand, you may want a ten- or twelve-generational template if you are studying it to learn more about your ancestors.

For those who make genealogy a hobby and want to trace their histories back to the Mayflower or beyond, you will want to break down your information into multiple charts. Instead of having one gigantic chart, you can use multiple six- or eight-generational family trees. This gives you more room to include important data and breaks down the vast amount of information into segments. It is also helpful if you have others helping you on the project.

These templatea are especially helpful if you are tracing your ancestry further back in time. As information becomes more difficult to find, you may have to abandon one part of the lineage and pick up with another ancestor. Keeping these family tree templates is a handy way to remember what information you have and which family members are missing.

A template for your family tree makes research more accessible and the process more enjoyable. It provides an important visual if you are working with kids, and is a great way to record all of the data you discover. Select the right template based on your needs and the goals you have for studying your ancestry.

Suzie Kolber created  to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Guest blog: Veronica Bale - 'A Noble Deception'

Forced to wed a landless knight in order to protect her home, Moira MacInnes intends an annulment of her marriage to the arrogant Lachlan Ramsay as soon as possible. Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan. 


Scotland 1455 – The Douglas clan is at war with their king. To protect his lands from confiscation, Lord John Douglas, the dying Earl of Kildrummond, must find an heir that doesn’t carry his name. 

A landless knight, Lachlan Ramsay expects no more of life than battles, blood, and the occasional warm bosom. But when Lord John makes him his heir, Lachlan has a chance at something he never dreamt of—a home. There’s just one condition: He must marry the earl’s bastard daughter, the fiery, eccentric Moira MacInnes. 

Lachlan has no desire for a headstrong, sharp-tongued wife. Moira has no need for an arrogant, too-handsome husband. To save Kildrummond they will marry and seek an annulment immediately upon the earl’s death. But deception is never simple, and passion once inflamed is impossible to ignore. Soon they will no longer be deceiving the earl but themselves.

Buy at Amazon.

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A Noble Deception - Excerpt

Bundled against the icy wind, Moira pushed her mare onward through the deteriorating weather. That morning, she had set her mind on making it to Glendalough by mid-afternoon (Highland wind be damned). She wanted to leave well before the evening meal to avoid being guilted into staying.

Except now, she was starting to regret her zeal; her new priority was to simply reach the castle’s walls before dark.

One way or another, she would confront Viscount Strathcairn. After a considerable amount of thought, she’d made up her mind.

She would accept his proposal—sweet heaven above, she couldn’t even think the words without gritting her teeth!

As much as she detested the arrangement, for however brief a time it may be, she had to concede that it was logical. As long as he was willing to uphold his end of the bargain and have the marriage annulled when the time came—and Moira had no choice but to trust that he would—then she would agree.

And why wouldn’t he make good on his promise? A man like Lachlan Ramsay wouldn’t want a plain, simple lass like Moira for a wife under more natural circumstances. Any more than Moira would want a vain, over-confident, self-important brute like him.

Vain he certainly was!

Well, he probably was, at any rate. All men that good looking were.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

ANGEL HEART by Marie Laval

ANGEL HEART by Marie Laval
Regency with a paranormal twist


Who did the woman think he was to summon him to her room like that? A lackey, probably. His lips twisted in an angry snarl as he climbed the stairs two by two. Madame Norton might live in a ramshackle manor house on the bleak, windswept Devonshire moorland, but she was still a Beauregard on her mother's side and a member of the English gentry by marriage. He should have followed Martin's advice and stayed at the club a while longer.

He walked down the draughty corridor and drummed impatient fingers on her door.

‘Who's there?’  A timid voice answered from behind the door.

‘Saintclair. Did you want to talk to me?’ His tone was short.

The door opened just enough for Madame Norton to peer through.

He exhaled sharply to control his rising temper. ‘Are you going to let me in or shall we talk in the corridor?’

She opened the door wider and he strode in.

‘Is there a problem?’ He looked down at her. Barefoot and swamped in an old dressing gown, the woman hardly reached his shoulder. He wondered what she wore underneath, if anything. His pulse quickened and a sudden rush of heat coursed through his veins. He stuck his hands in his coat pockets.

She stepped back and folded her arms on her chest.

 ‘You said you would be back early, yet you left me waiting here all day.’

Her icy tone did nothing to cool his blood. In fact it had just the opposite effect. He took a deep breath and walked to the fireplace to put some distance between them. His lips stretched in a thin smile.

‘Sorry. I got…distracted.’ He shrugged. ‘I did arrange a carriage and a driver for us. We're leaving for Lyon on Saturday.’

She looked at him again in the way a queen might look at a mangy dog.

‘Why wait until Saturday? Your instructions are to take me straight to Beauregard. Monsieur Malleval won't be pleased.’

 If she meant to intimidate him, she had failed. She was starting to amuse him greatly—in more ways than one. 

‘I have things to do. Anyway, what's the rush? I thought you might like to come to town with me tomorrow and see a play in the evening.’

Her eyes flashed in anger.

‘I do not go to the theatre, Capitaine. I am in mourning.’

He arched his eyebrows. ‘After six years?’

‘My husband was a wonderful man. I will mourn him all my life.’ Her eyes filled with tears, she bit her lip.

He didn't answer. There was one thing to be said for her. She was convincing—a first-class actress. He had almost been taken in by her wistful sighs and tearful eyes, by her drab mourning dresses and the almost virginal blushing on her cheeks every time he looked her way. He had almost believed her grief-stricken widow act…until he saw young Norton leave her room in the middle of the night with a wide grin on his face. He knew better than to be fooled by a woman, especially a pretty one. 


Devonshire, 1815.

Marie-Ange, the young widow of an English officer, accepts an inheritance in France only to find that everything in Beauregard is not as it seems. Why is the sinister Malleval so obsessed with her family? And could her darling Christopher still be alive? Marie-Ange finds herself trapped in a dangerous web of lies, intrigue and mystical possession, and the only person to whom she can turn for help is Captain Hugo Saintclair. Yet the enigmatic Hugo represents a danger of a different kind …

‘Angel Heart’ is a lavish mix of romance, adventure and a hint of the supernatural, largely set in France against the turbulent background of Napoleon’s return from Elba.



Thursday, 27 August 2015

Guest Blog: Merryn Allingham - 'Daisy's Long Road Home'


That decided her. Grayson had been adamant she must say nothing that could precipitate the danger he feared. But she wouldn’t be saying anything. She wouldn’t be involved in any confrontation. In the strictest sense, she wouldn’t be going against his wishes. If she crept to the room while the palace slept, no one need ever know. She could make a brief search and return before anyone was

She slipped noiselessly out of bed and dressed in the clothes she’d worn the previous day. Grayson was still sleeping soundly when she let herself out of the suite and tiptoed into the corridor. Despite the brave words to herself, her fingers were tightly crossed that she could find her way back to the study and without meeting a fellow night wanderer. It turned out to be a more difficult journey than she’d anticipated. On several occasions, she turned in the wrong direction and found herself looking at a blank wall or down an unfamiliar corridor, and all
the time her heart was in her mouth at every creak of a wooden door or sigh of the palace walls. But eventually she stood outside the room she sought. Its door was no
longer ajar and that halted her. She could have no idea what, or even who, was behind its blank facade. She breathed deep and gathered her courage. She needed all of it to turn the door handle.

There was nobody. For a moment, she was overwhelmed with relief and had to grasp the back of the nearest chair to steady herself. She waited until her breathing had settled before she gave the room a swift scan. She must be quick, she couldn’t afford to linger. Grayson would be awake in less than an hour and ready to leave on his own adventure. She made for the desk. It was the most obvious place to look, but a cursory glance at the papers strewn across its surface, made plain there was little to interest her here. She bent down to the drawers on one side of the desk, methodically flicking through their contents and making sure she replaced everything as she found it. One side completed, but again nothing of interest. On to the drawers on the far side. She found them locked and her pulse beat a little quicker.

This could be it. Inside could be the letters she sought, the diary, the journal, anything that Karan had written in his time in Brighton. She tugged at each of the three compartments in turn, hoping the locks were too old to withstand an assault, and forgetting in her furious concentration that she’d intended to leave no trace of her visit. The drawers remained obstinately shut. Frustration made her careless and she shuffled the papers here and daisy’s long road home there on the desktop, looking for anything that might be strong enough to break the locks. A tray of pens, a sheaf of blotting paper and a paper knife, were all she found. Nothing she could use.

But perhaps, after all, it wasn’t the desk she should focus on. The bookcases that lined every wall might hold what she wanted. She walked slowly from one set of shelves to another, searching first the lower tiers and making sure she felt behind each row of books, then when that proved unsuccessful, dragging a chair to each bookcase in turn and clambering to the very top shelves. Still nothing. It had to be the desk. She bounced back across the room.

There was a madness in her now; the more frustrated she became, the more she believed there was something in this room, something locked in this desk, something that Talin Verghese did not want to be seen. If so, it had to concern his
dead son, and she had to get those drawers open. She went back to the desk and picked up the paper knife. It looked a feeble tool, but it was the only thing possible. She bent over the top drawer and had begun prodding and poking the lock with the knife, when a voice from the doorway made her heart jump in fright.

‘Are you quite mad?’

It was Grayson. Thank heaven for that at least.

‘I have to get these last three drawers open,’ was her sole explanation.

‘What are you thinking of? This is a private office, and if I’m not mistaken the Rajah’s personal domain. And you’re burgling it?’

‘It looks bad, I know.

‘Looks bad!’ Grayson’s expression was explosive. ‘It looks bloody lethal—for us. Now come back to the room, for God’s sake.’

‘I can’t. I have to open these drawers.’ Her whole life, it seemed, depended on opening them. It was stupid, but if she had been drowning and the drawers were weighing her to the ocean floor, she would have clung to them still.

Grayson took only an instant to decide. He strode over to the desk and took the paper knife from her hand. In three swift clicks, he’d opened three drawers.
She gaped at him.

‘What did you expect?’ His anger hadn’t abated. ‘That I couldn’t open locked drawers? Now get on with it.’

She scrambled through their contents as quickly as she could, but finished desolate. ‘There’s nothing.’

‘How surprising. Now let’s get the hell out of this place.’

‘Excuse, sahib, memsahib.’ A servant had slipped from behind one of the pillars lining the corridor and was watching them from the open door. Grayson slammed the drawers shut, his face the picture of chagrin.

‘We couldn’t sleep,’ he lied blatantly, ‘and decided to explore a little and then became lost.’

‘Of course, sahib. Please to come with me. I will escort you to your suite.’

In single file, they trooped back to the apartment, their feet as heavy as their hearts. As soon as the door had closed on their escort, Grayson turned to her in a fury.

‘You realise what you’ve done, don’t you? Compromised the whole
expedition. How could you?’

Despite his anger, she stood her ground. ‘I had to get into that room and this was my only chance. I can’t speak to Verghese. I can’t speak to his advisers or his servants. You’ve laid the law down on that. So how else can I get to what I need?’

‘What I need,’ he mimicked. ‘It’s always what you need, isn’t it? Everyone and everything else can go to hell.’

‘That’s not true. How can you, of all people, say that?’
She turned away from him and walked to the closed windows, her arms folded across her chest as though to keep the hurt she felt enclosed within.

‘I owe you my life, Daisy. Don’t you think I don’t remember that every single day? You’re brave, you’re determined, you’re loyal—up to a point. But if push comes
to shove, it’s what you want that will count. And with this obsession of yours, push does come to shove fairly frequently, doesn’t it? And this time, we’re talking a matter of life and death.’

‘It’s not like that,’ she said desperately. ‘You don’t understand.’

‘I never do, according to you. But what I do understand is that you’re prepared to act as selfishly as you choose. So selfishly that you’ll endanger not just your own life
but others’ too.’

She had never seen him so furious. His jaw was rigid and in the muted light his blue eyes were the darkest navy, glinting and angry. She was forced to concede then that she had done a very stupid thing and the fight went out of her.

‘I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. I was so sure that I would find something.’

She must have been in the grip of madness, she thought, to think she could rifle the Rajah’s sanctuary and not be discovered. Even to think she could uncover any kind of clue.

‘But you didn’t find anything, did you? And just suppose you had.’ His voice was quiet but brittle. ‘Is that more important than finding Javinder, than saving Javinder?’

‘No,’ she mumbled miserably.

‘That’s what it amounts to, doesn’t it? You’ve put your own concerns before a young man’s safety and, to add insult to injury, you found nothing.’

She had found nothing and her heart ached for it.

‘I’m going back to bed.’ He began untying the robe he’d worn. ‘There’s little point in doing much else. Whatever plan I had is in tatters. From now on, they’ll be watching us every minute of the day and night.’

And without as much as a glance at her, he stalked into the adjoining room, leaving her staring at the closed door. The servants wouldn’t be gossiping after all, she thought forlornly. She was filled with sorrow, her legs weak, her feet shuffling into the bedroom they’d shared just an hour ago. The outline of his body was still there in the sheets, the pillows that had nursed his head still dented. The most

abject misery gripped her. It was as though the ribbon of her life had unspooled and, in that instant, been wiped blank. The quest, the obsession—and Grayson was right, the need to discover her history had become an obsession— had died an abrupt death. Why had she thought it so very important?

Daisy's Long Road Home is published on August 27, 2015. Buy from Amazon UK:

Visit Merryn at

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Guest blog: Andrea Japp - 'The Lady Agnes Mystery, Vol. 1'

1304.The Church and the French Crown are locked in a power struggle. In the Normandy countryside, monks on a secret mission are brutally murdered and a poisoner is at large at Clairets Abbey. Young noblewoman Agnès de Souarcy fights to retain her independence but must face the Inquisition, unaware that she is the focus of an ancient quest.

Praise for Andrea Japp:
'Captivating characters … and vivid descriptions' Le Figaro
'Enthralling, page after page' Encre Noir

The Author:

Andrea Japp is one of the grandes dames of French crime writing with over thirty novels published. She is a forensic scientist by profession and weaves this knowledge into her books, giving them particular authenticity.

Buy at:

Excerpt (from Part One - The Season of the Beast):

Manoir de Souarcy-en-Perche, Winter 1294.

Agnès de Souarcy stood before the hearth in her chamber
calmly contemplating the last dying embers. During the
past weeks both man and beast had been beset by a deadly cold
that seemed intent on putting an end to all living things. So many
had already succumbed that there was barely enough wood to
make coffins, and those left alive preferred to use what little there
was to warm themselves. The people shivered with cold, their
insides ravaged by straw-alcohol, their hunger only briefy kept
at bay with pellets of suet and sawdust or the last slices of famine
bread made from straw, clay, bark or acorn flour. They crowded
into the rooms they shared with the animals, lying down beside
them and curling up beneath their thick, steamy breath.

Agnès had given her serfs permission to hunt on her land
for seventeen days, or until the next new moon, on condition
they distribute half the game they killed among the rest of the
community, beginning with widows, expectant mothers, the
young and the elderly. A quarter of what remained would go
to her and the members of her household and the rest to the
hunter and his family. Two men had already #outed Agnès de
Souarcy’s orders, and at her behest the bailiffs had given them a
public beating in the village square. Everybody had praised the
lady’s leniency, but some expressed private disapproval; surely
the perpetrators of such a heinous crime deserved execution or
the excision of hands or noses – the customary sentences for
poaching. Game was their last chance of survival.

Souarcy-en-Perche had buried a third of its peasants in a
communal grave, hastily dug at a distance from the hamlet for
fear that an epidemic of cholera might infect those wraiths still
walking. They had been sprinkled with quicklime like animal
carcasses or plague victims.

In the icy chapel next to the manor house the survivors prayed
day and night for an improbable miracle, blaming their ill luck on
the recent death of their master, Hugues, Seigneur de Souarcy,
who had been gored by an injured stag the previous autumn,
leaving Agnès widowed, and no male offspring to inherit his title
and estate.

They had prayed to heaven until one evening a woman collapsed,
knocking over the altar she had been clinging to, and taking with
her the ornamental hanging. Dead. Finished off by hunger, fever
and cold. Since that day the chapel had remained empty.
Agnès studied the cinders in the grate. The charred wood
was coated in places with a silvery film. That was all, no red
glow that would have enabled her to postpone any longer the
ultimatum she had given herself that morning. It was the last of
the wood, the last night. She sighed impatiently at the self-pity
she felt. Agnès de Souarcy had turned sixteen three days before,
on Christmas Day.

It was strange how afraid she had been to visit the mad old
crone; so much so that she had all but slapped her lady’s maid,
Sybille, in an attempt to oblige the girl to go with her. The hovel
that served as a lair for this evil spirit reeked of rancid mutton fat.
Agnès had reeled at the stench of filth and perspiration emanating
from the soothsayer’s rags as she approached to snatch the basket
of meagre offerings: a loaf of bread, a bottle of fresh cider, a scrap
of bacon and a boiling fowl.

‘What use is this to me, pretty one?’ the woman had hissed.

‘Why, the humblest peasant could offer me more. It’s silver I
want, or jewels – you must surely have some of those. Or why not
that handsome fur-lined cloak of yours?’ she added, reaching out
to touch the long cape lined with otter skin, Agnès’s protection.

The young girl had fought against her impulse to draw back,
and had held the gaze of this creature they said was a formidable

She had been so afraid up until the woman had reached out and
touched her, scrutinised her. A look of spiteful glee had #ashed
across the soothsayer’s face, and she had spat out her words like

Hugues de Souarcy would have no posthumous heir. Nothing
could save her now.

Agnès had stood motionless, incredulous. Incredulous because
the terror that had gripped her those past months had suddenly
faded into the distance. There was nothing more to do, nothing
more to say.

And then, as the young girl pulled the fur-lined hood up
over her head, preparing to leave the hovel, something curious

The soothsayer’s mouth froze in a grimace and she turned
away, crying out:

‘Leave here! Leave here at once, and take your basket with
you. I want nothing of yours. Be off with you, I say!’

The evil crone’s triumphant hatred had been replaced by a
bizarre panic which Agnès was at a loss to understand. She had
tried reasoning with her:

‘I have walked a long way, witch, and …’

The woman had wailed like a fury, lifting her apron up over
her bonnet to hide her eyes.

‘Be off with you, you have no business here. Out of my sight!
Out of my hut! And don’t come back, don’t ever come back, do
you hear?’

Monday, 20 July 2015

Guest blog: Summerita Rhayne - 'The Eligible Princess'

The Eligible Princess is Book 2 in the Kamboj Princesses Saga set in Early Medieval India. It is a sensual, historical romance. It’s a sort of prequel to Book 1 Hidden Passion, but you don’t need to read them together. Each is a separate story.

....After Hidden Passion, the Kamboj Princesses Saga continues with Rukmani’s sister Lakshaya... 

King Kartikeya must marry a princess. He's determined to do anything to keep the kingdom he has taken with strategy and sheer guts. If that involves charming a princess into marriage, then so be it.

Princess Lakshaya infinitely prefers the study of science to the art of impressing a suitor. In fact, she would rather have no more proposals at all. But refusing a king as opulent as Kartik is out of question. Drawn against her will by the force of his attraction, she begins to accept him, only to discover hidden secrets along the way.

Can she bring herself to go ahead with this marriage?

Set in Early Middle Ages in India, Book 2 in the Kamboj Princesses Saga follows Lakshaya in her journey to discover desire, passion, intrigue and love.


She crept up and along the corridor and positioned herself behind a pillar. The moon was full tonight and you could see right across the yard between the two wings. On the opposite side the accommodations of special guests were built. Now the entire wing had been placed at the Maharaja’s disposal. He would need it with the cavalcade he had brought, she thought. He was on the floor opposite and his samants and other ministers below.
She thought she could detect movement in one chamber and raised her vision enhancer to her eye.
The next instant, she gasped and nearly dropped the instrument. Recovering, she trained her eye to it again.
The king stood in the centre of the room, handing his gold chest plate to the servant who was next handed the strings of pearls from around his throat. His armlets and cuffs came off. Then his hand slid lower and he unwrapped the gold belt from his kayaband.
Lakshaya’s hands nearly slipped from the cylinder. She could make out a vast expanse of skin. Male skin. Toned skin covering powerful muscles. She had a close-up view of how dark hair smattered across his upper chest, not so dense above, rather pleasing to behold as they narrowed going downwards. The muscles of his chest bulged and moved as he – she gulped – as he now removed his kayaband. She trembled. Surely she should go now? A maiden shouldn’t observe a man undressing, should she? The servant was bid something. Maybe to prepare his bath. The uniformed man left. Lakshaya brought back the focus on the king. His hands went to the knot of his antariya. Just as her lower belly contracted, the moonlight came and flooded the courtyard as a cloud uncovered the lunar god’s visage. Light fell on the glass, momentarily blinding her.
 With a small gasp, Lakshaya moved back into the shadows. Regaining composure, she trained her instrument on the object of her fascination again. He had his back towards her now and was flexing his arms, the movement throwing into prominence corded muscles against satin smooth skin. Skin that tempted her to touch it. Something contracted in her stomach, a strange fluttering attacking her pulse. Shame, excitement and anticipation mingled like magic potions to produce butterflies in her stomach. He repeated the movement. For her, breathing became difficult. She lowered the cylinder, hands trembling, heart beating fast. Oh devi ma! She had to take control. Had to think...
After a breather, she raised it again, her mouth dry with the knowledge of the forbidden. What would she find now...?
He wasn’t immediately in her view. Frowning, she moved it from one wall to the other. Where had King Kartikeya gone?
A hand gripped her wrist and she gasped, dropping the cylinder. She had an impression of hair sprinkled skin shaping honed muscles and gasped anew as she realized who it was.
She had her answer as to where he had gone!
He had caught her instrument as it slipped from her fingers and now turned it this way and that. ‘A device for spying? Or was it peeking for your own benefit?’ Dark eyes snared her gaze. ‘Why strain your eyes, charuta? Have a look at the real thing up close.’
He was here. Right next to her. She saw the strong features, the dark locks falling to his nape, thick gold rings in his ears. ‘No...That is, I wasn’t –’
‘You weren’t looking at me?’ He took up the cylinder and put his eye to it. ‘Hmm…rather quaint. Very interesting. Bagalpur has a lot to offer, I guess. A princess who is known for her talents and is eligible enough to be sought for marriage. Maidens who carry spy glass. And are beautiful along with being inquisitive.’ His fingers flicked along her cloth covered cheek.
His contact was warm and electric, even through the thin, makeshift veil. Tingles spread along the small touch.
‘Who sent you to spy on me?’
‘I – no one.’
‘In truth? No one knows you’re here?’
‘No one. In truth.’ She could say that with confidence at least.
A part of her brain that was still functioning made her realize he hadn’t seen her. How could he when she had covered her face? Just her eyes were visible. Her hand went to touch her mask.
He noticed the gesture. ‘Yes, unveil yourself, my dear. I’m curious to see you too. From close by.’
‘No!’ She dodged his attempt as he reached out for the cloth and took a step back.
‘No? Ah, my mystery woman... You want to play games?’
There it was again. A slight lilt to his tone that somehow conveyed and hinted at an enjoyment to come. Lakshaya shivered involuntarily. That sexual tone made her feel she was the target of all his intent. She swallowed.
‘Games are fun, aren’t they?’ she said carefully. Could she pull this off? Hope began to hammer in her heart. Maybe she could escape from being found out. Alarm feathered along her nerves. Hey devi ma, he shouldn’t know that the princess was the one who had waved so brazenly from the window. And had been watching him undress as well.
‘They could be. That is, if you like them, my beauty.’
‘You don’t know what I look like,’ she said somewhat unwisely. ‘How would you know if I’m beautiful?’
‘From your eyes,’ he said. ‘They are beautiful. They are naughty too. They speak out what they want.’ He stepped close.
So close. She was almost touching him. Her gaze dragged up on him. He was naked except for the antariya, the upper edge of it resting low on his hips. Without the kayaband it was located disturbingly low on his body. She could make out a hint of his hipbone and the flat plane of his lower belly. The unnerving realization cramped her stomach.
‘Look all you want. When you’re ready to touch, just let me know, or better yet, just go ahead.’ Laughter laced his voice. That and the customary sensual edge. His knowing gaze entrapped hers. Color flared along her cheeks. He tilted her chin up.   
‘Come with me. Let me satisfy your curiosity,’ he said.
The suddenly urgent tone sent blood rushing through her body at double the speed. Forbidden images waved through her brain before reason poured water on them.  
‘You don’t even know who I am.’
‘You are a woman and you want me. I can see it in your eyes as they flick over me. Even if I hadn’t seen it in the way you have been watching me since I entered the premises. I could feel your interest from a kos away, when I was riding into the palace. What does it matter who you are? The stations, the statures, positions and titles are false, my dear. This is real. Feeling. Sensation...’ He came even closer and now she was touching him, supposedly to stop him, feeling the restrained strength in his body as she flattened her palms against his chest, her own muscles quivering involuntarily in response.
Maharaj,’ she protested because he had moved in slowly but surely and now she was backed up against the pillar. Oh God, she couldn’t call anyone for help. And he was trapping her! ‘Please...let me go.’
‘You smell of chameli and...and woman,’ he groaned and bent his head to the curve of her throat. His lips touched her skin and her knees almost melted. His mouth brushed lightly along her neck and her eyes closed. What was he doing? A simple touch was sending a whirlpool of sensations cascading inside her.
‘Please!’ She had to stop him.
‘Please, my maiden? What is this ‘please’ for? Please take me in your embrace? Is that what you want?’ He made as if to do that and although the recalcitrant need snaking through her wanted just that, she evaded his arms. He let her move out of their circle but not far, his hand manacling her wrist as she went past him. 
‘Let me go or – or –’ her princessly threat didn’t have an appropriate ending and she stumbled to a halt.
‘Or what?’ He didn’t get any answer to that and cocked an eyebrow, ‘I’m up for any challenge.’ When she didn’t respond, very slowly he began to pull her to him. ‘I’ll let you go if you wish. But first I have to see your face.’
‘No! No!’ She made a desperate grab to clutch her improvised mask. He caught her to him, easily trapping both her arms, curving her backwards a little as he stared into her eyes. His hand reached out to the knot.
‘No! No, please!’ she whispered. ‘Don’t touch it.’
His hand hovered then touched the cloth at its edge. ‘You don’t want me to pull it away?’
She shook her head. ‘Please no!’
‘Then I won’t.’
The breath whooshed out of her. She felt like she had been dragged back from the edge of a precipice. But she had to confirm it. She looked at him with some suspicion. ‘You won’t?’
‘On one condition.’
‘What’s that?’
‘Give me a kiss.’ He dropped the words that were like hot coals into her lap. He smiled lazily. ‘One kiss and you’re free to go. I won’t touch your mask.’
‘A kiss, my mystery maiden!’ His gaze dark and bold with intent, he stared into her eyes.