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Soul of Fire
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Soul of Fire

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Author: Sarah A. Hoyt
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 2008
Series: Magical British Empire: Book 2

1. Heart of Light
2. Soul of Fire
3. Heart and Soul

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Filled with adventure and danger, intrigue and romance, this thrilling new fantasy from Sarah Hoyt follows the quest for a rare treasure--by a man of rare breed--in a magical Victorian British Empire that never was....

British gentleman and were-dragon Peter Farewell has embarked on a daunting task: to recover the Soul of Fire, a magical ruby said to lie at the heart of British-controlled India. But finding one stone in the heart of a land simmering on the cusp of rebellion, and rife with hostile magics, seems an impossible task--until Peter saves the life of a young virgin fleeing a distasteful arranged marriage. For unknown to Sofie Warington, the flawed gem that is all that is left of her dowry is the very one Peter has been seeking. And if Peter can keep her safe from the sinister factions desperate to gain control of both Sofie and her dowry, he will find more than a jewel; he will find his heart's destiny.


Maiden in Peril

"Mama, don't make me marry him," Miss Sofie Warington said.

Seventeen years old, clad in a white dressing gown and clutching a blue muslin dress to her ample bosom--with her hair quite untamed and her expression wild--Miss Warington should not have looked ravishing. But the way her dark hair fell in tumultuous waves to the bottom of her spine, the way tears trembled at the end of the long eyelashes surrounding her dark blue eyes, the way her lips opened to let through her impetuous words would have brought strong men to their knees.

They had less effect on her mother, Lavinia Warington. "Don't be foolish, girl," she said, her voice severe. "What are you doing out of your room? And why are you not dressed?" As she spoke, she skillfully shepherded her daughter up the spacious stairs, carpeted in expensive red velvet that showed wear in discolored, threadbare patches.

Sofie resisted, but it was useless. She felt out of step and like a stranger in this house. She'd been born into it seventeen years ago, and she'd spent her first ten years in its vast, resounding, sun-washed rooms, attended by a native ayah and adored and indulged by her parents' various servants. But at ten, she'd been put aboard a carpetship to London, where for seven years she'd been a pupil in Lady Lodkin's Academy for Young Lady Magic Users.

The summons to return home two weeks ago had overjoyed her. London had never felt like home to her. Too dark, too dank, and people were too ready to sneer at her honey-colored skin--the result of one of her ancestresses' being the Indian mistress of an English officer. She'd felt like a wayfarer in London. And yet, now home proved no home at all.

She'd found her mother and father to be far from the mythical, godlike figures who had watched over her childhood with pride and care. Her mother had grown bitter and her father... Her father didn't bear thinking about. She knew nothing of magical maladies, but she knew enough to guess when someone had been using dark magic, and using it far too extensively. And she knew it was an illness that could hardly be cured.

And then there was the reason they'd summoned her back home a year before her education was completed. It wasn't a longing for her company, as she'd hoped. And it wasn't even that they'd missed her. "Lalita told me that the man visiting tonight is a rich native raj from a distant kingdom," she accused her mother. "That he offered for me several months ago, and you... you accepted! Before I even returned."

"And how would she know this, since she has been in London as your attendant till just two weeks ago?"

"She says the kitchen servants talked about it. They said that's why you sent for me."

Sofie's mother's lips closed tightly, until they seemed to be but a single red line. "Lalita talks too much."

Sofie turned around fully, still clutching her dress, anxious fingers digging deeply into the folds of the material. "But is it true, Mama? Did she tell me the truth? How can you agree to give me away to a man I haven't even met? A man who..." Oh, if it was true, she had to run--somewhere, somehow--and find or make her own fortune.

"Child, you're being foolish. We are not giving you away to anyone. We found you a most advantageous marriage, one that most women in your position would give their eyeteeth for. The Raj Ajith is a powerful man, the ruler of a vast kingdom as native domains go, and he's agreed to make you his only wife. You will live covered in jewels and surrounded by servants. Trust me, Sofie, your lot could be worse."

As she spoke, Madame Warington propelled her daughter up the steep staircase, till, at the top landing, she could put her arm around the girl's small shoulders and shepherd her gently through the open doorway of her room.

The room, if not her parents, exactly matched Sofie's memories of childhood. It was, by far, vaster than anything she'd seen in England--almost as large as the dormitory that at the academy she'd shared with twenty other girls. The walls were whitewashed, since to wallpaper walls in India's hot and humid climate was quite futile. Even magically applied wallpaper started mildewing from the moisture within days of being put up, and peeled altogether from the humidity and heat within months. But the whitewash was fresh, and if the occasional lizard wandered in through the open balcony door and climbed the wall, it looked like a planned ornament.

The bed was piled high with lace and silk pillows, and covered in an intricate, colorful bedspread. The tightly woven lace netting draped over it lent it an air of romance. At least, it would if you didn't know how necessary it was to keep out the noxious flying insects that flourished in this climate. And all the silk and lace might give the impression of riches, if one didn't know how cheap they were. Why, even the servants wore silken saris and gaudy gold jewels on ears and nostrils.

Still clutching her dress, Sofie allowed herself to be pushed all the way to the vanity in the far corner. The mirror--showing dark spots in its silver backing--gave her back her own image, with high color on both cheeks and moisture in her eyes, and she wondered how her mother could distress her so and not care.

Meanwhile, her mother had removed the dress from Sofie's clutching fingers and clucked at the wrinkles marring the fine blue fabric. "Why, you absurd creature. You nearly ruined this. Lalita!"

Sofie's maid and the constant companion of her adolescence emerged from the balcony, where doubtless she'd run at their approach, trying to evade Mrs. Warington's wrath. But Mrs. Warington was more preoccupied with her daughter's attire right now than with punishing her garrulous maid.

Lalita, whose name meant playful and who looked it, wore a bright sky-blue sari, and large, golden hoop earrings through her ears. Her hair was caught into a heavy braid at her back. Not for the first time, Sofie found herself envying her maid's vitality, her beauty and, most of all, her unrepentant certainty about who she was. Not for Lalita to wonder if she was Indian or English, and which one she might be more. Lalita, born and raised in Calcutta--the daughter of people born and raised there for generations uncountable--might have gone to London with Sofie for seven long years, but she had never had any reason to consider herself anything but Indian.

She walked into the room with an expression of repentance that was no more believable than an expression of humility upon a cat's face. Bobbing a hasty curtsey, she took the dress and fairly ran with it out the door, presumably to do whatever it was one did to a dress to remove wrinkles.

Sofie, who didn't know nor care what that might be, allowed her mother to fuss over her hair. "I can't believe you'd go out there like this, Sofie," Mrs. Warington said. "What if anyone had seen you?"

"Lalita said he was with Papa in the veranda off the parlor, and she said he is quite gross. And, Mama, she was right." She shuddered at the memory of the enormous native grandee, his shapeless form covered in bright silks that would have done better service as sofa- or bed-coverings. But it was not his repulsive physique that had disgusted her. No. What made her tremble and swallow hard in fear were his features.

A native he might be, but Sofie, raised by natives, didn't consider that a problem. However, she'd never seen anyone who looked like him. His face was broad and oddly arranged, with a very low nose and cruel lips. Between the scars crisscrossing his features, and the intricate tattoos marking his forehead and cheeks, he looked... not quite human.

And then there were his eyes, slitlike and quite yellow. The pupils were yellow-gold, but the sclera, too, had a yellowish tint, like aged porcelain or the teeth of a heavy smoker. Sofie shuddered at the memory.

"Mama, I--"

"Hush, girl," Mrs. Warington said, pulling hard on the heavy tresses she was plating into braids on either side of her daughter's face. "Don't make this into a melodrama. No one is going to force you to marry anyone you don't wish to. All I ask is that you look at Raj Ajith and think whether you could not stand to marry him."

"I've looked at him," Sofie said, as she remembered the man's smile, and the large sharp fanglike teeth that protruded from his thin lips. "There is nothing that could prevail upon me to consider marriage to--"

With a clatter Mrs. Warington set Sofie's silver-handled brush upon the polished mahogany dressing table. "Sofie, listen. You are old enough to know the truth. And the truth is that the chances of us finding you a respectable marriage with an Englishman in either England or India are next to none."

"I know you're going to say this is because I have Indian blood, but... Mother! Plenty of girls with more Indian blood than I have married exceedingly well. And besides--"

"Yes, doubtless," Mrs. Warington said. "Your father's grandmother married very well, but she brought with her an immense dowry accumulated by her nabob father. Enough so no one could say anything about her blood, or about the fact her parents never married and her mother was nothing but her father's native bibi. Yes, Sofie, money covers a multitude of sins, but that's where we fail, for we have none."

"No money?" Sofie asked, somewhat shocked.

A shadow crossed her mother's features. For a moment, the greenish eyes meeting hers in the mirror looked away.

"But you sent me to England!" Sofie protested. After all, only a small minority of girls were sent to England for their education, and certainly not those born to the very impecunious. Officers' brats, as a rule, stayed in Indi...

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah A. Hoyt


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