La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess
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 but influential men, who cannot be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious ends.
When their backroom political dealings put those she holds dearest in peril, 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.
Excerpt from Chapter One
London, England – 1805
The first time Kali met her father, he was screaming.
As she stood a few steps outside the cracked door, he bellowed at the procuress, just as he soon might be bellowing at her: “I am shocked you would call me here! Appalling enough to be summoned to a brothel, but to one like this?!”
The Masala Rajah Gentleman’s Retreat, Kali’s home for the past two years, earned money for its owner in three distinct ways. First, the bordello catered to a select, very wealthy few, offering the most exotic sex practices performed by the most stunning Indian women in London. Secondarily, it was a training ground for the most accomplished Indian courtesans to be had outside Punjab; women so extraordinary, it was less expensive to take a wife than make a mistress of a Masala Rajah girl.
Most obviously to the public, however, it appeared a traditional Indian kotha. Here, the aristocratic gentleman with a taste for the unusual could find the same privacy and luxury he found at White’s or Brooks’s, but with the addition of beautiful women in revealing saris to serve his drinks, admire his wit, dance and sing for his entertainment, and decorate his immediate landscape. That he might audition any of the women for a more permanent place, or take one to a room on a temporary basis, was known but unspoken.
Unfortunately, this particular man had more reason than most to minimize any connection to the unusual.
“A note!” he barked. “You sent a note?! What if it had been intercepted?! It is unthinkable that I might be associated with your… your… depravity!” he bellowed.
In all fairness, such an association was a disservice, since this gentleman never left the confines of the kotha. When he visited, infrequently, he rarely spoke, never encouraged flirtation, and always paid his bill in gold. He had never partaken of the offerings in the back rooms, never suggested even an hour with a concubine. He only smoked his pipe and watched the dancers and drank coconut feni, a spirit he had learned to enjoy during his military years in India.
Today, however, his presence was rather more disruptive. Mayuri Falodiya, the owner of the establishment, had been taking the brunt of his fury for the exactly twelve minutes she trained all of her girls to keep any man waiting. Mayuri’s scarred, leathery cheek was turned against his harangue, allowing his anger to wash over her without reacting at all, another skill she passed on to her pupils.
“You have no business calling me here! Anyone might have—” His railing stopped the moment Kali entered the room.
“My God!” he gasped.
As she curtsied deeply, the man’s rattled stare flew back and forth between the two women so fast his neck might have snapped. Falling back three steps, he whispered, “You look just like—”
“Rohana Shaheen,” Mayuri finished, putting paid to his tirade.
The Earl of Birchbright, or as Kali knew him, the Vikanta, looked nothing like her imaginings. Her mother had described hair like cinnamon, skin smooth as river clay, chest broad as a water buffalo, arms like a baobab tree, thighs strong as a bullock.
This man was tired and bent as a mangrove, hair white as a Brahmin’s shawl, face furrowed like an elephant’s hide, limbs spindly as a rattan palm. The only part that recalled Rohana’s musings were his eyes: the deepest blue of a peacock’s breast, fierce as a tiger stalking a gazelle.
Mayuri said nothing, just allowed the earl and his daughter to come to their own conclusions, and Kali followed her instructions not to speak unless addressed directly. Kali chanced glances from the depth of her curtsey, seeking some sign this was the man her mother had loved to her last breath. He motioned for her to rise, and Kali watched his hard eyes soften as he looked at her, frown turning to an even, narrowed line. He straightened his back, recalling another of her mother’s descriptions: the manner and bearing of a maharajah.
And well he might think himself a king. His wife was daughter to a duke. His three white daughters would marry rich, titled men in not so many years. His high-ranking position in Parliament and prominent place in Society were unassailable, but for Kali’s presence, which would place all in jeopardy if she were even slightly indiscreet. While part of her wished to expose him for the immorality of leaving his inconvenient black children in terrible danger a world away, it would be better to cultivate an ally than an enemy. Just as she had since birth, she would never make the least mention of her father’s name.
Kali had heard Rohana tell, ten thousand times, how his heart had ached to leave them, but when her cherished mother told her daughters stories of the love the two had shared, Kali and Kamala held their tongues, thinking Rohana foolishly besotted with an Angreezi who had never cared for her. It was more likely, the girls agreed outside Rohana’s hearing, that he had been taken by the talents of an exceptional tawaif and would have said or done anything to convince her to lie with him as often as she would allow it.
It was well known that men had ended their lives for unrequited love of some particular tawaif. For she was not a streetwalker who would futter for pennies, but rather, a skilled dancer, musician, poet, and practitioner of the erotic arts, trained from childhood to meet a man’s every desire. Before she met Birchbright, Kali’s mother had been concubine to the most exalted of Indian nobility, as her mother and grandmother had been before her, and her daughters were meant to be after.
“You look just like her…” His face was wondrous, the hard lines relaxing, eyes pooling, gnarled hand reaching toward her face with a tenderness she had never expected. “You’re like a vision… I never thought…”
Unlike most Englishmen of his ilk, the Vikanta had not treated Rohana like a disposable rag on which to wipe his spent cock, but rather, had forged a relationship based, if not on love, at least on mutual passion and esteem. Love was not an emotion granted a woman of her caste, nor embraced with a courtesan by a man of his. But the Vikanta could have turned Rohana out when she became pregnant, leaving her to the dubious mercy of the royal family, who had given her to the Englishman as a gift. Instead, he allowed her the child, then a second, honoring her request to keep some part of him once he was forced to return to England.
Their illicit involvement had lasted almost five years, but eventually, in his military capacity, he ordered more than fifteen hundred people slaughtered, from elders to babes at the breast, reprisal for ten British soldiers killed with a katar blade in the dark of night. When the mobs came for the blood of the Vikanta Khotaa—the Vicious Viscount of Visnagar—Sutcliff Knightley, the future Earl of Birchbright, boarded a brigantine to England, alone.
“I never thought I would see her face again. I can’t… It’s like she… It’s uncanny…”
If the Vikanta had remained in India, Rohana always said, she and her daughters would never have fallen so far, but Kali knew that was a lie. If he had stayed, he would have fallen with them. Rohana’s inexplicable love for the Vicious Viscount had seen her spurned by the community of powerful tawaifs and by the emperor who had given her away. She and her daughters were shunned by the English like every person of dark skin. The papers of protection the Vikanta had left were as worthless as his words of devotion.
Twelve years later, Rohana’s broken heart had finally stopped beating, and her daughters had come to England to seek out their mother’s oldest friend, Mayuri. The stigma of being half-caste daughters of a nameless tawaif in London was infinitely preferable to being half-white daughters of the Vicious Viscount in Visnagar.
Right this moment, though, Kali was not sure if her flight from India had been at all wise. It might have been better to throw herself and her sister on the mercy of Shahu, the emperor who had succeeded her mother’s first lover on the throne of Satara, rather than this Angreezi who could destroy her without compunction.
Once Birchbright accepted that the apparition in front of him was not Rohana, silence reigned until, after gulping several large breaths and closing his eyes against any memories that might be filling them, he said, “So, this is…” His eyes opened, but he looked past her. “Which one are you?”
Kali’s voice was nearly imperceptible, shaking and unusually squeaky. “Kali, my lord. Kali Shaheen.”
His face unbent momentarily. “And your mother? Is your mother…?”
“Rohana left this world three years ago,” Mayuri answered. “To be clear, my lord, should you choose to leave, there will be no mention of this to anyone. You need not involve yourself. It is only I believed you should know.”
His shoulders squared and face stiffened, preparing to berate them both.
“Quite right, there will be no mention. The repercussions of discovery cannot be overstated.” Clearing his throat, he snapped, “No one must ever learn of your existence, or your sister’s, or in any way tie you to me. Is that clear?” His eyes bored into Kali’s like awls, pinning her to the wall, so sharp she could only nod. A more proper response caught in her throat.
Then it was Mayuri’s turn under his harsh gaze. “Not one word,” he barked.
She visibly gulped and her hands fluttered.
“I have never had reason to question your discretion before today, but you will never—I mean never—contact me again directly! Not a breath about my time here or in India. Never. Or, by God, you will both pay in ways you cannot even fathom. Do you understand?”
There was no limit to the punishment an earl could rain down on any Indian woman, not least a courtesan, who attempted blackmail or coercion. The thousands of guineas Mayuri paid out in bribes would be for naught. All the protection of her other wealthy patrons would mean nothing. At best, she could expect the closing of the Masala Rajah; at worst, execution or transportation to a penal colony or simply rotting away in one prison or another.
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