Letter from Rohana Shaheen in Visnagar, India, to Mayuri Falodiya in London

08 August 1800

Mayuri Falodiya, Proprietress
Masala Rajah Gentleman’s Retreat
London, England

Miss Rohana Shaheen Visnagar, India

My dearest friend, Mayuri,

It has been so many years since I have seen your face, heard the soft lilt of your voice, the grace of your fingers on the sarangi. I can hardly remember the dances of our youth, the music we once made together, the joy and laughter of our nights with Ramraja, days filled with young women’s silly dreams of love and devotion. It is my fondest hope for you, who once I called my sister, that you found such affection with a lover after your departure from India.

After my disgrace before the Chhatrapati and the tawaifs, I do not forget you were the one woman who came to my defense. You paid dearly for your insistence that the actions of my lover were not my own, that as Ramraja himself offered me up to the Vikanta as a gift, I deserved the protection of the emperor, not his contempt. For your defense of me, you were scarred beyond reckoning and banished with only your jewels to keep you, and I have grieved for the loss of your beauty and your livelihood since that fateful day.

I write at long last with news of my life since your departure for England and to ask the greatest service any woman can ask another. I will not dissemble, my friend, as you must know my years have not been easy, nor the life of comfort we were promised as the most favored tawaifs of the Maratha princes. Indeed, raising two children with no husband or protector has been a daily challenge for more than a decade. Were it not for the Vikanta’s generosity upon his leave-taking, we might have starved, for such is the charity shown by the royal family.

But such children! Both lovely girls: Kali, a graceful, thoughtful young lady who turns thirteen today, showing signs she will grow into an incomparable woman; and Kamala, who is yet a silly miss of almost eleven, and prefers stories of romance to her lessons. Both have a distinct flair for languages—English, French, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Farsi—and both show talent for the arts, Kamala with a special aptitude for the yaal harp, Kali an extraordinary dancer. Both are well-mannered and well-trained to the caste; I have seen to that myself.

This, however, is why I must ask a more important indulgence than I have ever asked anyone, as you will soon be the only hope for my daughters.

My health is failing, death slowly stalking me, as it often does, but I do not have so much time left as young girls dream. Without me, they will be alone in the world with no one to speak for them, to keep them safe, to be the mother they will yet need, both still so young. I believed, ten years ago, the Vikanta’s orders of protection by his soldiers were a boon, but now I see they only aligned my fate with those who would become my country’s enemies, ignoble men disinclined to provide shelter on the orders of a man an ocean away.

I have begged Emperor Shahu to place my girls under the imperial court’s protection, but you know his temperament better than any. I was fortunate to be granted an audience, but only so he could speak of how poorly I have aged and give vent to his long-standing hatred of my former lover. Of my children, he suggested only that they sell themselves to British soldiers, as that is what he considers I have done.

Our shared friend, Nitara, called me aside as I left the palace to say you have opened a kotha in London to train girls to our way of life. It is my dearest hope you will accept Kali and Kamala to study with you—the most talented tawaif of our generation—and help them find their start in life.

I do not ask out of remembrance of our childhood friendship, but rather offer the last of the fortune I was gifted by the Vikanta, not an inconsiderable sum, holding out only what the girls will require to make their way when they are fully grown. There is no other woman in the world to whom I can entrust my greatest treasures and the monies saved to keep them from harm.

As you are in London, you may yet discover the whereabouts of the Vikanta, Sutcliff Knightley, formerly Viscount Asheton and Lieutenant-General of the 29th Regiment of Bengal Sepoys, who will surely by now be the Earl of Birchbright. I cannot provide his direction, but if he can be located and is still the decent man I remember, he will honor his promise to protect our daughters. I beg of you, my friend, help me save my girls from certain ruin.

Namaste, my sister,

Rohana Shaheen


Find out what happens to Kali and Kamala in

La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess.

ldn-cover-500x750

Sired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends. When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.

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Interrogation of a Paramour

Ferdinand_Tellgmann_Porträt_eines_Kupferstechers_Öl_auf_Leinwand

Source: Ferdinand Tellgman, Portrat eines Kupferstechers (retouched)

“It’s Newgate for sodomites, you know, but I got some questions first.”

“Of course.”

“Might be easier on you if you hadn’t been caught with a viscount in your bed.”

Solomon Peate rubs a hand across his face. Once before he had been caught, prancing about a molly house, but he had been cheap entertainment then, not the paid companion to a lord. The owner of the flash house who had rented him out had just paid off the Watch to look the other way. He certainly hadn’t been taken up by Bow Street, and the newspapers hadn’t followed him. Drew was going to hate him after this. Not to mention stop paying the bills.

“It wasn’t what you think.”

“No? What was it, then?”

WilliamCobbettPrison

Source: Crimes and Punishment Magazine, 1810

The man stares expectantly, not looking for an answer, but rather, the lack of one. Would that Solomon and Drew had established some sort of lie to cover this eventuality. Surely, this man hadn’t heard the rumors screaming through the ton, of the two men sharing the favors of The Black Goddess. He was only a functionary, after all.

“It was just… he needed a place to sleep. There is only one bed. I could hardly let a viscount sleep on the floor.”

“Mm hmm.” The man made a note in a file, the shifting of his beady eyes leaving Solomon feeling, if only for a moment, less pinned to the wall.

“Newry pay your rent, then?”

This was safe territory. Plenty of men were compensated with room and board. Sadly, in this case, it hadn’t been provided in Drew’s servant’s quarters, where a viscount’s title might have provided some measure of safety. Not that living in Drew’s town house in proximity to his staff would have been at all safe.

“He is my employer. I am his secretary. Part of my remuneration is the upkeep of my rooms.”

“In a building filled with nothing but mistresses to wealthy men.”

“I cannot be held responsible for the life choices of my neighbors.” Whether or not the on-dits had reached Bow Street, his options were running out. “In fact, my location is how he met his true mistress, who lives just across the hall from me. Kali Matai, La Déesse Noire? You might have heard of her.”

“Heard you and Newry are sharing her,” the man states baldly, rolling his eyes, “but I also hear that might be a front. Secretary, you say?”

“Yes.”

Another note. “Keep his accounts then?”

“Among other things.”

“It’s the other things that interest me.”

Solomon only just manages not to laugh at the implication; he must be slightly hysterical. None of this was a laughing matter, and suggesting the man would act as voyeur to two catamites was not at all the best idea.

“There are no other things of the type you insinuate. I manage his everyday business affairs. Estate matters and the like.”

“Mm hmm. How many estates does Newry own?”

The interrogator clearly knows, and Solomon hopes he has no specifics in his file, for what Solomon knows of Drew’s business affairs is limited to discussions he has overheard his protector having with other gentlemen, and the monies he spent to keep his companion in cravats.

“Three estates. Four houses, though, if one counts the one here in London. Or rather, three and a half. One burned last year, and is only now being rebuilt.”

Oh, he could tell this little roach of a man that Drew prefers weak tea and almost burnt toast, that he always wears silk shirts and owns one hundred twenty-two watch fobs and thirty-seven snuff boxes. Solomon could easily recall the placement of his birthmark and the exact size of his… thumbs. But the specific nature of the viscountcy’s investments? The cost of the servants’ wages? Problems on his tenant farms? Any of the details a good secretary would know? He hadn’t the least idea.

“Where are his properties?”

“Portslade, Whitney, and Swindon. And the town house on Curzon Street.”

The quill just kept scratching across the foolscap. Such a slight sound to be giving Solomon such a large megrim.

“Primary source of income?”

“Sheep. And mining.” At least those were the investments of which Drew spoke most frequently. “He has started a stud, but it isn’t turning a profit yet.”

666px-Newgate-prison-exercise-yard

Newgate Exercise Yard by Gustave Dore

For the first time, a lecherous grin crosses the man’s face. “Way I see it, started a stud in his own bedchamber. That’s enough, Peate. I can call you back after I’ve spoken to your… paramour. See how your stories hang together.” His laughter barks like a badly loaded musket. “Hang together. That’s funny.”

“He is not my paramour, and I sincerely doubt anyone will hang a viscount,” Solomon said, unsmiling. A viscount’s paramour, though, was another thing altogether.

“Mm hmm. Best warn you. Don’t much like gentlemen of the back door in Newgate.”

Solomon felt the blood draining from his face. He had thought nothing could be more injurious to body or soul than his former life—servicing any man with a guinea to keep his bed in a flash house—but even an hour or two imprisoned for this particular charge would be far worse. In Newgate, he wasn’t even worth a guinea.




Find out what happens to Solomon Peate in La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess.

LDN CoverSired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends.

When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.


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Interrogation of a Lord

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“I. Am. A. Viscount!”

Andrew Marsham, Lord Newry, had been shouting for at least a quarter-hour, since this… lackey from Bow Street appeared at the door. When told the viscount was Not At Home, the lout forced his way past the butler, calling out through the halls and opening doors like he had a right to be in the house. Eventually, he had found Drew in his study, making himself quietly drunk.

Red face perspiring, veins in his neck and forehead distended and twitching, the viscount insists, at a continued loud volume, “You cannot keep me here! You cannot lock me in my own house and treat me like a criminal!”

“You may as well sit, Newry.”

Lord Newry to you, Sirrah!”

“Call you anything I like, and if you’re lucky I won’t call you a molly.”

“This. Is. Preposterous!”

The man points with his quill to a chair and says, his voice a bit tired, having been awake since the small hours when he dragged Drew and Solomon from a shared bed, “Sit, Newry. This can get a lot worse for you. And it might be preposterous if I hadn’t seen you in bed with a man with my own eyes. Can you explain how you came to be there?”

The volume dropped as he stumbled a bit over his words. “We… we were both… bosky, and there was only one bed. I was hardly going to sleep on the floor, nor ask the room’s resident to vacate his own chamber.” Donning a viscount’s display of indignation, he added, “I cannot imagine why that would necessitate imprisonment.”

“If you had been clothed, I might be more inclined to believe you. The only reason you are here and not in Newgate is the gentleman speaking for you. Marquess of something-or-other. Outranks the earl who—”

“Marquess of what?” he demanded. “Who is speaking on my behalf? And to which earl are you reporting? I am a peer of the realm, Sir, and require you provide me the information without delay!”

“I cannot provide you information I do not have. God’s bollocks! Will you sit, man?”

WilliamCobbettPrison

Source: Crime and Punishment Magazine, 1810

Lord Newry splashes brandy into a glass and downs it quickly, as he has done twice already since the interrogation began. Pouring another, he finally lowers himself into a chair, worry beginning to take its toll. There was no chance he could ask about Solly’s whereabouts, but the thought of him sitting in Newgate, rotting away for who knows how long, is enough to make Drew cast up his accounts. Were he not a disciplined man, he might have done already.

Then, a thought occurs that turns his weak stomach into a strong knot. Solly will surely want nothing to do with him after this, no matter how much Drew pays as a quarterly stipend. He is already distrustful of the nobility, given his prior experiences with gentlemen seeking brief, anonymous paid entertainment with a desperate man, but never, in those encounters, had he been followed by the newspapers and tossed into Newgate. And, it must be said, Sol hadn’t been entirely dependent on them. He hadn’t been forced to trust them, which made this situation much worse.

Sol had no reason to stay; his pocket watch alone—the one Drew had had engraved—would keep him for a year.

Unfortunately, asking about Solly’s whereabouts or his condition was no way to convince this functionary of the innocence of their association. He hopes Sol is suffering only in pride, not person.

“So, you say he’s your secretary.”

“Because he is my secretary.”

“What kind of work does he do, then?”

Lord Newry’s nostrils flare. “The same sort of work as every other secretary in England. Estate matters, correspondence, appointments…”

“Can anyone verify that he’s responded to a letter or scheduled a meeting? Does his writing appear in your dairy?”

“His writing—?” Lord Newry stands again, pacing to the hearth, where he tosses a log into the fire. His observation was slightly less bellicose now: “This is preposterous!”

“Just answer the question, please.”

Drew was well aware Solly’s hand appeared nowhere in his diary, nor in his ledgers or correspondence or estate reports. Solly’s hand appeared nowhere but on Drew’s… well. It was critical this horrid little man not get his hooks into anything in the study or estate office. Especially not the more personal missives Drew would have burned, had they not so heated his blood.

“How am I to know to where he has written every note?”

The man looks up, eyeing Lord Newry with more interest now. “You don’t keep track of your own secretary? What if he should cheat you?”

“He has been in my employ almost three years. If he were going to cheat me, he would have done it and disappeared long before now. And I am hardly the only man in London who doesn’t stand over the shoulder of his man-of-business.”

Making a note in his book, eyes on the paper and ink, the man asks, “You pay his rent?”

If the man knew who paid the rent, it meant he might already have access to the account books. Drew was now unsure in what instances he could lie.

“As part of his remuneration, I pay the lease and maintenance of his rooms. He was in a sorry state when I found him, and it seemed the honorable thing to do. I could hardly have a man representing me in tattered clothes, living in a cheap room in Saffron Hill.”

“Most peers would have hired a man more suited to the position.”

“Most peers have no compassion for the downtrodden.”

“That is certainly true.” Shuffling through papers, the man asks, “The rooms you pay for… the building is owned by the same woman who owns the Masala Rajah whorehouse. Most of those apartments are rented out to the demimonde.” He laughs as he corrects himself, “The dark-skinned demimonde. Any reason you have your secretary housed in the same building as other men keep their mistresses?”

“I cannot be held responsible for what goes on in every building whose threshold I cross. The rooms were clean and inexpensive.”

My man just raises a brow. Perhaps inexpensive had been a bit too much of a falsehood. “Any truth to the rumor you are keeping the woman across the hall from him?” He checked a note. “Kali Matai? A dancer of some sort?”

Of course! Kali! How could he have forgotten Kali? “Miss Matai and I have… an arrangement.”

“What sort of arrangement?”

“Do you honestly believe me to have so little honor I would give you details of my relations with my mistress?”

The man shrugs and shuts the portfolio of papers before him and stands. Drew looks up, having expected the interrogation to last longer. He had been spinning lies in his head that might have lasted all week.

“You cannot leave the house, New—Lord Newry. There are guards posted. I will return if I have any further questions. Your friends hold more influence than I, and likely, at this moment, more than you. Perhaps they can keep it quiet and out of The Lords. Were I in your shoes, I would trust in them.”




Find out what happens to Lord Newry in La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess.

LDN CoverSired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends.

When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.


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Amazon UK
iTunes
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Kobo

To connect with Mariana Gabrielle:
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