Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought…
It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled existence – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.
Jamie starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.
There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”. Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.
When it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot Jamie begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?
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On the roof terrace, in the balmy night air, other people strolled too, but Jamie deliberately headed for an empty corner. He wasn’t going to try and seduce Mrs Miller, but he wanted to see what her reaction would be to spending time alone with him, if she was as averse to men as his friend Andrew had implied.
‘Would you like to …’ he began, holding out a hand to indicate the bench, but she interrupted him.
‘No, I prefer to stand,’ she muttered, turning to stare out across the river which glimmered in the moonlight.
‘Very well.’ Jamie moved to join her in gazing at the view and she immediately stepped to the side to create a gap between them, even though her skirts kept him well away already. He stayed where he was. For now.
‘My friend tells me you are a widow, Mrs Miller,’ he said in order to start the conversation.
‘Yes, my husband died last year,’ she replied, sounding less than enthusiastic at this line of questioning.
He gathered she didn’t like to talk about this and thought that perhaps it made her sad. He bowed slightly and commented, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. You must feel it keenly, being on your own.’
‘Thank you, but I prefer it.’
‘You like solitude?’ Jamie didn’t bother to hide his surprise. It wasn’t a sentiment most women shared as far as he’d gathered.
No explanation seemed to be forthcoming, so he just commented, ‘That is … unusual.’ He gestured again towards the bench. ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like to sit for a while? You can still admire the view, you know.’
She shot him a look which he couldn’t interpret, then shrugged. ‘We won’t be staying up here for very long, but by all means …’ She sank down, spreading her skirts so wide Jamie raised his eyebrows.
‘Pardon me, but unless you wish me to sit on your gown, would you mind moving the material slightly? Or are you trying to indicate that you’d prefer me to stand?’
He saw her cheeks take on a tinge of colour, but she moved her skirts enough for him to be able to sit.
‘So tell me, why won’t we be staying for very long? Have you tired of my company so soon?’ he joked.
‘No. That is … we only came up for a quick breath of fresh air.’
‘Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not in any hurry to return to the stuffiness below. Tell me, do you not find it difficult being on your own here in Surat?’
‘No, as I said, I prefer it.’
‘You wouldn’t rather live in England?’
‘Absolutely not.’ When he again raised his brows at her, she added, ‘I grew up here. England is a foreign country to me.’
‘Ah, I see. Then I suppose you’ll be looking to marry someone who is planning to stay in India.’
‘No, I’m not.’
Jamie was taken aback by this forthright answer, but she pre-empted any reply he would have made by standing up and turning to fix him with a glare.
‘Look, I may as well tell you now – I know where this is leading and the answer is no, Mr Kinross,’ she said, her voice tight and her expression one of quiet determination.
‘And … and now I wish to go downstairs again.’
He stood up as well. ‘I beg your pardon? I wasn’t aware I’d asked a question.’ ‘No but I can see that you’re the kind of man who usually has all the ladies in a flutter, and no doubt you thought I’d be another easy conquest,’ she said, rushing the words out as if she’d recited them many times before. Perhaps she had, Jamie thought. ‘But I’m not looking for a husband so you’d be wasting your breath,’ she finished, drawing in a deep gulp of air at last. ‘You’ll have to make your fortune some other way, as will the gentleman who asked me earlier.’
Anger rushed to the surface, making Jamie forget everything except wanting to punish this woman for her presumption that all men wanted to marry an heiress. Just like Elisabet. He deliberately stared at her bosom as it heaved enticingly. This made her blush, so he allowed his gaze to travel up to her face and back down along her body. ‘As I said, I wasn’t asking,’ he drawled. ‘And believe me, marriage wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when I saw you.’
He had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes widen and her nostrils flare with outrage, but thought to himself that she’d deserved it. Why should he concern himself with her sensibilities when she was so set against every male she encountered without bothering to make their acquaintance properly? The nerve of the woman, to assume he’d want to marry her when they had only just met.
‘Well, really! I’m—’
‘—not used to men who aren’t interested in you? No, I can see that. But rest assured, Mrs Miller, you’d be the last woman on earth I’d want to marry. If you’re ever looking for a mere dalliance, however, just let me know. I’d be more than happy to oblige.’ He let the words hang in the air for a moment, then gave her a mocking bow. ‘And now, since we’ve established that neither of us is interested in wedded bliss, I’ll bid you goodnight. There seems no point in prolonging the conversation or becoming acquainted further. Enjoy your solitary life.’
He turned on his heel and stalked off, more shaken by the encounter than he’d care to admit. Mrs Miller had reminded him of everything he’d been trying to forget and all the reasons why he’d come to India in the first place. Her assumptions about him were as rude as they were unfounded. What was it about spoiled beautiful women that they thought every man within ten miles would want to marry them? They could at least wait to be asked.
To hell with all women.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and YA contemporary romance, all published by independent publisher Choc Lit. She is half Swedish and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, she moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East. Christina is the current chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). Her novels Highland Storms and The Gilded Fan have both won the Romantic Novel Award (RoNA) for Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year (in 2012 and 2014 respectively). Her latest novels are The Secret Kiss of Darkness (time slip) and Monsoon Mists (historical romance).