Reluctant Concubine was the Amazon #1 bestselling fantasy romance for 5 weeks when it was released. It will be 99c at all etailers from 2/24 – 3/2.
“.thought provoking and masterfully written” Amazon Reviewer
“VERY HARD TO PUT DOWN” Kobo reviewer
“characters leap from the page while the plot keeps u turning them” Nook Reviewer
RELUCTANT CONCUBINE Excerpt:
I hurried to my room and pulled on my short tunic, regretting for a moment that not one piece of my worn clothing matched any other. We had better clothes when my mother had been alive. We had fine robes and food and laughter.
I put away the memories that seemed less than real, like legends from a golden age, and wrapped my veil around my head in the proper manner for a healer, then hurried toward the front. I pushed through the wind-torn curtain that covered the entrance.
“Apar,” I greeted Jamir—calling him father for the last time.
The traders fell silent. Their gazes poured over me like icy water.
I could scarce keep from staring back at them. Shells and small disks of metal decorated their clothes in a dizzying array of patterns I had never seen before. The richness of the materials, the sheen of the fabric, the glitter…
Jarim caught my gaze and smoothed down his thin tunic. He wore better clothes than I, but still he could have been mistaken for a servant next to the strangers.
“Everything you say is true?” the tallest man, made taller yet by his wrapped silk headpiece, asked Jarim.
I sucked in my breath at his rudeness. To question the word of a Shahala was unthinkable. Though no Shahala blood flowed in Jarim’s veins, since he’d been married to my mother, people had always extended him the same respect.
“Very good healer. Only daughter of a Tika Shahala,” Jarim boasted just as rudely, as if not at all offended.
He spoke a little of most languages used around our area. I knew them as well as my own, learned from the many visitors who had come to my mother.
I wished Jarim had not said such a thing, even if he said it only because he did not want to shame me.
The leader’s cold eyes narrowed. “Ten blue crystals.”
I stifled a gasp. Ten blue crystals were more than we had seen in a long time, many times more than my help was worth had I been willing to give it. I tugged Jarim’s sleeve.
“She is worth twice that,” Jarim insisted and hushed me when I tried to speak.
I had never seen him like that before. A healer did not bargain over healing or ask payment. The sick gave gifts according to their abilities, despite reassurances that no payment was necessary.
“Twelve.” The trader’s impatient tone signaled the end of bargaining, and he handed Jarim a worn leather bag.
To my horror, Jarim counted the crystals. Then he nodded. Perhaps he did not feel the need to show manners in front of people who had none.
When the traders started toward the ship and motioned to me, I followed obediently, if a little dazed. I stopped after a moment when my mind cleared.
“My herbs.” I turned toward our dwelling, taking mental inventory. I should probably grab a little of everything.
But the man who had bargained for my services said, “You will not need those.”
Of course. They traveled many waters. They probably had their own herbs on the ship. Maybe I would even see something new and exotic. The thought cheered me a little.
I looked at Jarim, but he would not look at me.
“Come,” the lead trader ordered.
And I followed him.
I hoped they wanted me to heal slaves, although I was unsure whether my ministrations would be much help. But trying would have been easy, as my heart went out to the unfortunates. And I had to try now, whether master or slave languished in the sickbed—Jarim had already taken the payment.
Our shore met the sea not with a sandy beach but with boulders and rocks the waves beat against. Because of this, most ships docked in Sheharree, the nearest port, and our visitors completed the journey over land. But this time a grizzled man, wet from the spray, waited for us, holding the rope of a massive boat wedged between two scarred rocks, each as large as the boat itself.
I eased in, fear stealing into my lungs as we shoved off. The next wave could push us back and smash the boat against the rocks. But the men who handled the oars handled them well and mastered the waves.
What would they do to me if my healing failed? Would they bother to bring me back and demand their crystals? I could too easily see them tossing me overboard, into the rolling sea.
I wanted to tell them I was a fake, that I was sorry my father had taken their payment. But none of them talked, so I too remained silent. I did not want to make them angry, these people who stole others’ lives to sell.
My heart beat a hurried rhythm at the unfamiliarity of the boat ride. I squeezed my eyes shut against the fury of the sea. My mother had always forbidden me from taking to the water, a habit I had kept even after her death. The boat tossed, and I grabbed its side, trying to pretend I stood atop a numaba tree, the branches swaying under me in the wind.
A welcome calm spread through my limbs at the fantasy, until the waves sprayed water in my face. I told myself I stood atop the numaba tree, and the rain began to fall. But my mind no longer believed the tale.
After an endless time, the traders shouted, and I opened my eyes. We had reached the dark vessel, the side covered with scars, the wood smelling moldy and sad, as if the sadness of the slaves had poured out into the ship.
I looked at the traders and wondered if anyone sailing on such a ship could ever be anything but unhappy, but their faces were closed and hard as a naga shell, so I could not tell which way they felt.
I climbed the rope ladder second after the leader, the rest coming up behind me. I did not mind the short climb, the ship not nearly as tall as the trees on our hillside. But I did mind when the wind snatched my veil. The length of fabric, like a dead bird falling from the sky, tossed on the waves but for a moment before it disappeared under the churning water.
The man behind me did not give me time to worry about the loss, he growled at me to hurry.
The deck stood deserted, the boards weather-beaten, the black sails frayed. Worn ropes tied down a pile of firewood to my left, two wooden buckets secured to the pile with twine. A handful of barrels were tied to the ship’s railing on my other side.
The men shoved me down into the belly of the ship that swallowed me like a large fish that had not eaten for many days. I shivered even as my forehead beaded with sweat from the hot, stale air. I opened my mouth to ask how many were sick, but a rough hand in the middle of my back shoved me forward into a dark cabin. The door closed with a loud thud behind me.
“I will need a lamp,” I called through the door. “Or a torch.”
I turned back to the darkness and lowered my voice. “Is anyone here? Anyone sick?”
No response came, nor could I hear anyone breathing in there with me. I moved forward until I bumped into the wall, then laid my hands on a roughly-hewn wood plank and followed it.
When I reached the door, I pushed against it to no avail. I felt around for some furniture but found none. I was in an empty cabin somewhere in the middle of the ship. With nothing else to do, I sat down and waited for them to bring my patient to me.
Instead, I heard the scrape of the anchor being pulled up. Voices rang out on deck. Sails snapped somewhere above me. My heart shuddered when I finally realized there would be no sick coming.
I, Tera, daughter of Chalee, Tika Shahala, had been sold by my own father to be a slave.
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