Andrea DaRif A Kiss of Spice

ISBN 13: 9780743463492

A Kiss of Spice

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9780743463492: A Kiss of Spice
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The scarred hero of the Napoleonic wars who has little use for London society, the reclusive Viscount Davenport is drawn by an urgent request to return to the family estate, where he is confronted by the theft of an ancient family heirloom--rumored to carry a strange curse--the disappearance of his younger brother, and an encounter with a beautiful former acquaintance. Original.

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About the Author:

Andrea DaRif started creating books at the age of five, or so she is told. Her mother has the proof -- a neatly penciled story, the pages lavishly illustrated with crayon-drawings of horses and bound with staples -- to back up the claim. She has since moved on from Westerns to writing about Regency England, a time and place that has captured her imagination ever since opening the covers of Pride and Prejudice. In addition to the drawing rooms and countryside depicted by Jane Austen, she has drawn inspiration from the work of other classic authors of the period, including Ann Radcliffe and, of course, the Bront?s. Writing as Andrea Pickens, she has received a Career Achievement Award from the Romantic Times in Regency Romance, and was a RITA finalist in 2003.

The author of The Tiger's Mistress, available from Pocket Books, she is a graduate of Yale University, with a B.A. in art and an M.F.A. in graphic design. She and her husband live in Connecticut, where she is working on getting her golf handicap down to a respectable number when she is not riveted to her keyboard. Please visit her website at www.andreadarif.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

"Its power comes from love."

The small statue glittered in the firelight, its ruby eyes bright as burning coals. "So the legend goes." The man raised his palm to the flames, then slowly curled his fingers closed. "It is said that the very first pasha of our tribe carved this lion, the king of beasts, to watch over his family and keep it safe from all threats."

"Fascinating," murmured the Englishman. "Might I have a closer look?"

There was a flicker of hesitation. Several of the tribal elders shifted nervously, stirring a faint whispering of silk. Shadowed by the folds of his headdress, the Persian chieftain's features took on a certain tautness. However, as custom dictated a hospitality to strangers, he gave a courteous bow.

"Over the years it has been handed down with great ceremony from father to son," he continued softly, passing the statue over to his guest. "For you see, it comes with both a blessing...and a curse."

"A curse?" The Englishman's brows arched, expressing an equal measure of surprise and skepticism as he inspected the delicate workmanship. With its gilt mane and ebony body, highlighted by tiny gold claws, it was a fetching little piece. Though in truth he had seen many more impressive talismans during his recent travels through the region. Barely three inches long and half as high, the beast was hardly something to inspire fear and awe. But as a diplomat with the English legation visiting Syria, he would never be so rude as to say so aloud.

"Yes, a curse." The chieftain nodded gravely. "Tradition has it that a powerful curse will fall upon the pasha -- and all his heirs -- if ever the Ruby Lion is taken from its rightful realm. Misfortune. Grief. Untimely death," he intoned. "And the thief and his family shall suffer the same. Until such time as the talisman finds its way home."

"A powerful curse, indeed." Turning the statue in his fingers, the Englishman gave a small chuckle. "Surely in this day and age, you don't believe in such things as curses or spells anymore, sir. We, too, have such stories in England -- they are called fairy-tales."

His words were met with an unblinking stare.

"They are told to frighten children," he continued. A gust of wind swirled at the tent flaps, drawing a sharp hiss from one of the elders. Clearing his throat, the Englishman lowered his voice. "While educated men like you and I know better than to give credence to ancient superstitions."

"I employ one of your countrymen as a tutor to my sons because I believe it important to understand modern ways, Mr. Bingham. That does not mean I have abandoned the faith of my ancestors." With a flourish of his white robes, the chieftain reached for the Ruby Lion. "A wise man respects the past, as well as the present and the future."

The Englishman nodded politely, but to himself, William Bingham could not help but scoff at such nonsense. Curses? The word conjured up fanciful notions of clanging chains, headless specters, and haunted castles.

It was the stuff of fiction -- and rather lurid fiction at that.

With a sudden clap of his hands, the chieftain summoned a procession of servants, who began offering thick Arabic coffee and sugared sweetmeats to those seated around the fire. Rather than resume his place on the pillows, however, he turned and slipped silently into the shadows.

Curious, Bingham kept an eye on the other man's movements as he nibbled at a date. It was quite dark beyond the ring of firelight, but a pair of hanging lanterns cast just enough illumination for him to see the ghostly blur of white approach a large cabinet at the back of the cavernous tent. Reaching inside, the chieftain removed what looked to be a small box. In no more than a wink of brass, he opened the lid, slipped something inside and returned it to its place.

A moment later, as if carried on the wings of a desert sirocco, the chieftain was back in front of the flickering flames. "We shall leave you to your rest now. You have a long journey ahead of you." Another soft clap prompted the other guests to rise and withdraw. "The caravan will leave at dawn, and after a stop in Ar-Ruhaybah, it will escort you on to Damascus to meet up with the rest of your party."

"And from there, to Tyre and back to England," murmured Bingham.

"May you have a safe journey home." The chieftain touched his fingertips to his forehead and then to his lips. "I will be gone when you arise, for I take a trading party east, and we must reach the bazaars by nightfall."

"Thank you for your hospitality. You have been more than generous."

"It is the tradition of my people. I trust you will pass the night comfortably here in my own private quarters. However, if there is anything you desire, you have only to ask."

Whether it was the richness of the lamb stew, the effect of the strong coffee, or the prospect of sailing for home after spending so many months in foreign lands, Bingham felt much too restless for sleep. Circling the fire, he spent some time admiring the items that lay ready for transport to Damascus -- richly patterned carpets, heavy silver bracelets, and razored daggers curved like crescent moons.

He wandered past the bales of silk and suddenly found himself facing the mysterious cabinet. In the flickering light, he studied the latticework doors, intrigued by the intricate geometric patterns -- and by the fact that one of them was slightly ajar. Unable to contain his curiosity, he reached for the silver knob. There was no harm in looking, he decided, seeing as it was unlocked.

The door swung open to reveal the brass box he had spied earlier.

Bingham brought it out into the light and slowly opened the lid. Sitting atop a bed of wine-dark velvet was the Ruby Lion. Once again he took the small statue in his hand.

"Ha, you do not look so very dangerous," he whispered, stroking a thumb over its paws.

Nor, for that matter, did it look all that very valuable. Just a bit of gold and two small gemstones. But it was rather exotic, and he could not help thinking how well it would look on his brother's curio table. Charles was an avid collector of fanciful animals. The crouching ebony form would make a perfect mate for the ivory elephant their cousin had brought back from India.

He stared for a moment longer. That it came with such a devilishly entertaining story made for an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

And if there was one thing William Bingham couldn't resist, it was a cracking good story....

Copyright © 2004 by Andrea DaRif

Chapter One

Blue-deviled.

With a muzzy shake of his head, the gentleman twitched at the damp greatcoat draped over his shoulders. No, he decided, that was not quite an apt description of his current mood. At the moment, it was more of a viscous black. Blacker than the squalling night that had forced him to put up at the ramshackle inn for the night. And likely to bleed into a deep, brooding claret after he polished off the two bottles of wine that had just been set down before him.

At the heavy thump of pewter tankards upon a nearby table, the throbbing at his temples grew more pronounced. His surroundings, hazed with the fumes of cheap ale, raw tobacco and labored sweat, only served to further darken his spirits.

It had been nearly a year since that very painful period in his life when disappointment and disfigurement had him seeking solace in the oblivion of alcohol. Since then, he had managed enough of a recovery from old wounds to keep his personal demons at bay. But the letter tucked away in his pocket had reawakened a whole regiment of devils in his head. Given its contents, he supposed he might be forgiven for turning back to the strategy of trying to drown the enemy in a surfeit of spirits.

He shifted his bleary gaze, somehow knocking his empty glass to the floor as he squinted through the swirls of smoke. Had that been his fourth brandy? Or fifth? He had lost count.

One thing seemed certain enough -- the red-headed barmaid, who mouthed an airy kiss as their gazes met, seemed quite willing to overlook his jugbitten condition. On delivering his latest round of drinks, she had rubbed up against his thigh, then brushed her hand across the front of his breeches while apologizing for an errant spill.

The parted lips, ripe with hints of promised pleasures, had been inviting. He had not objected when, on shifting her tray, she contrived to tumble into his lap.

"It'll be another hour 'til I get off work, luv," she murmured, ignoring the jeers of the neighboring patrons. "The old goat kicks up a dust if we ain't running ragged right up to closing. But have no fear, I'll have plenty o' legs left ta please a fine gentleman like yerself." Her gaze slid from the creased collar of his coat to the tips of his muddy Hessians, and her smile broadened. Despite the travel-worn state of his dress, its quality was unmistakable. "By the by, what shall I call ye?"

"Just...Max," answered Viscount Davenport, seeing no need to mention his title, or his full name -- Maxwell James Prescott Bingham.

"Now that's a right 'andsome name fer a right 'andsome feller." She traced a finger along his cheek. "A jealous husband?"

"A French dragoon. And as you can see, one who was a good deal more skilled at trying to put a period to my existence than any Town cuckold."

It was said with a sardonic drawl, but Davenport stiffened at the barmaid's touch. A special salve had worked miracles in reducing the once ugly gash near his eye to naught but a faint scar. Still, he was self-conscious of its existence. In truth, he felt flawed enough inside without being reminded of his other imperfections.

Sensing her flirtations had struck a raw nerve, the barmaid moved quickly to assuage the damage. "Well, it makes ye appear real rakish. An' a little bit dangerous." Her hand wove a sensuous trail through his tawny locks. "An' very, very sexy." Tilting his head back, she ran her tongue over his lower lip.

"Janey!" A bellow came from behind the taps. "The gennulmun may be paying ye te lift yer skirts, but I ain't! There's other custo...

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Andrea DaRif
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