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Authors: Bonnie Dee

Captive Bride

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Captive Bride

By Bonnie Dee

San Francisco, 1870

Huiann arrives in America expecting to be wed to a wealthy businessman. She no sooner disembarks from the ship than she realizes Xie is not looking for a bride: Huiann is worth more to him as a high-end prostitute.

Though her fate is better than that of other Chinese women forced into the sex trade, she has no intention of waiting for Xie to sell her virginity to the highest bidder. At the first opportunity, she escapes and disappears into the city.

When a beautiful woman takes refuge in his store, Alan’s life changes forever. He’s spent the last five years trying to forget the horrors of war, and had almost given up hope of finding love. He hires Huiann as his housekeeper, and though they can only communicate through signs and sketches, they quickly form a bond that transcends the need for words.

But Xie is determined to recover his property, and love may not be enough to protect Huiann from his vengeance.

Dear Reader,

A new year always brings with it a sense of expectation and promise (and maybe a vague sense of guilt). Expectation because we don’t know what the year will bring exactly, but promise because we always hope it will be good things. The guilt is due to all of the New Year’s resolutions we make with such good intentions.

This year, Carina Press is making a New Year’s resolution we know we won’t have any reason to feel guilty about: we’re going to bring our readers a year of fantastic editorial and diverse genre content. So far, our plans for 2011 include staff and author appearances at reader-focused conferences such as the RT Booklovers Convention in April, where we’ll be offering up goodies, appearing on panels, giving workshops and hosting a few fun activities for readers.

We’re also cooking up several genre-specific release weeks, during which we’ll highlight individual genres.

So far we have plans for steampunk week and unusual fantasy week. Readers will have access to free reads, discounts, contests and more as part of our week-long promotions!

But even when we’re not doing special promotions, we’re still offering something special to our readers in the form of the stories authors are delivering to Carina Press that we’re passing on to you. From sweet romance to sexy, and military science fiction to fairy-tale fantasy, from mysteries to romantic suspense, we’re proud to be offering a wide variety of genres and tales of escapism to our customers in this new year.

Every week is a new adventure, and we want to bring our readers along on the journey. Be daring, be brave and try something new with Carina Press in 2011!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected]. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

For all women who have suffered or continue to endure injustice.

Chapter One

1870, off the California coast
Clouds were painted on the flat blue-gray sky, not even a gull disturbing the barren heavens. From great black stacks, ribbons of white billowed behind the rapidly moving ship. Although the steamer cut steadily through the waves, it seemed it wasn’t moving at all—

as though Huiann would spend the rest of her life standing on this deck, waiting for her new life to begin.

When she imagined meeting her husband for the first time, she wavered between nervous anticipation and wrenching fear. Was he handsome, ugly, old, young? Would he treat her gently and listen to her thoughts or expect her to keep silent about her ideas as she tended his house? She hadn’t been allowed to ask such questions when her parents announced she was to be a bride.

Huiann’s parents had found their three daughters husbands one by one, but by the time it was her turn, the family’s prosperity was depleted. So when prosperous American businessman Xie Fuhua sent his agent Lui Dai to secure a bride from the home country and the man spotted Huiann walking in the park, it was considered a miraculous blessing.

“The gods have favored my employer, Xie Fuhua, with riches to match his name,” Lui Dai explained to Huiann’s father. “Any family would be lucky to make 6

Captive Bride

such an alliance. With your daughter’s favorable face and family name, she’ll be the perfect bride for him.”

“Our ancestors smile on us today! Such a husband will give you a secure future,” her mother assured her, and in less time than it took to steep tea, the contract was signed and sealed, along with Huiann’s fate. She was to be married to the illustrious Xie Fuhua upon her arrival in San Francisco.

Although Huiann had always dreamed of traveling to foreign lands, faced with the reality her heart ached for Suzhou, her beautiful town on the Yangtze, which she might never see again. Her parents would rest with their ancestors by Lake Taihu while she would be buried far from home.

What would her new home be like? Would her in-laws accept her into their family with warm embraces or be disappointed in the bride their son had acquired from the home country? A mother-in-law could make her new daughter’s life heaven or hell on earth. And with Huiann’s impatient nature, she was quite likely to do something to earn chastisement and bring shame upon her family name. It was as inevitable as the west wind blowing.

Curling her hand around the wet iron railing, she gazed once more at the turbulent gray-green waves before turning to go below deck to check on her chaperone in their stateroom. Madam Teng, another of Xie’s servants sent to escort his bride to America, was miserable with seasickness and lay moaning in her berth day after day.

As Huiann descended from the bright world above to the suffocating dimness of the saloon deck, the thrum of great turbines rattled her very bones. The ship Bonnie Dee

7

was a fire-breathing dragon devouring the miles between two continents. On the lowest level, men shoveled coal into the beast’s belly to keep her moving.

It was like the story of Ping Liu, forced to serve the dragon king for a dozen years to free a princess then tricked into eighty more years of slavery. Huiann felt sorry for the toiling men and curious about the mysterious world below her feet.

She passed her cabin, continuing along the corridor to the stairway leading down to the boiler room. She opened the door. Instantly the throb of the engine grew even louder. How deafening it must be for the men working right next to the great engine. She placed her slipper on the top step then the next. What was the worst that could happen? Someone would tell her to go back where she belonged. It wouldn’t be the first time in her life curiosity had gotten her scolded. Despite her name, which meant
kind peace,
Huiann was anything but peaceful. Her mother had bemoaned her restless nature for her entire life, and it had led her into many places in Suzhou where a young lady had no business being.

Now it prodded her down the stairs. The heat increased with each step she took and the thud of the pistons deafened her. At the foot of the stairs, flickering red light from the boiler room flared in the window of the door facing her. She rose up on her toes to peer through the grimy window.

Inside the long low-ceilinged room, coal was piled across from flaming furnaces. A dozen half-naked men, their bodies shining with sweat, shoveled fuel into the burning chambers. They were as black as coal themselves from the dust that coated their skin. Their 8

Captive Bride

muscles bulged and flexed with the effort of the never-ending task, and Huiann felt an odd tightening in her lower belly at the sight of their gleaming muscles. She looked away, embarrassed by the uncomfortable warmth that flooded her.

Deep inside she knew she’d soon see more than a little naked male flesh. What would her new husband look like without clothes on? What would he want her to do? Her mother had been frustratingly vague in her explanation of what to expect on her wedding night.

“You must lay with your husband in quiet submission, and the gods will reward you with children.” Huiann knew about the act of copulation but couldn’t imagine how it must feel. Just the idea of making her private parts accessible to her new husband made her flush with embarrassment. The actual union of their bodies was something she didn’t want to dwell on. She could only imagine it would be painful and something to be gotten over with as quickly as possible.

Huiann watched the fascinating scene in the boiler room for several more moments before stepping away from the soot-smeared window. The door above opened and rapid footsteps pounded down the stairs.

Huiann’s gaze darted back and forth, searching for a place to hide. At her back lay the boiler room. In front of her was another door. She darted across the passage and through the door into the area of the ship just above the keel.

It was dark, stuffy and without so much as a porthole to cast light on its contents. One small lantern burned on the wall, illuminating bins, boxes, crates and kegs. Huiann squatted beside a crate, waiting for Bonnie Dee

9

the man on the stairs to go about his business so she could return to her room. The sound of hushed voices, whimpering, murmuring, crying and singing, floated from the dark behind her. Ghosts! The ship was haunted. Superstitious dread filled her for a moment before she realized the sounds she heard were very real and human.

Huiann rose from her crouch and wove between the storage crates to explore the area beyond. It was so dark in the hold she could barely make out a row of tall pens made of wooden slats lining one wall.

Women’s voices came from inside them. She caught her breath as the smell of bodily waste hit her, and she registered movement inside the nearest cage. Someone was imprisoned inside.

Human cargo. A slave ship. Her stomach lurched as if overcome with seasickness again.

The women spoke Chinese in dialects she didn’t understand. Huiann spoke Wu, the regional dialect of Suzhou, and Mandarin, but couldn’t decipher this rough peasant speech, perhaps Xiang or Gan.

For several moments she remained poised on the brink of flying back upstairs to the world where she belonged, to the comforts of her clean berth and the nuisance of Madam Teng. The foul odors and desolate weeping coming from the caged women were horrifying, but she couldn’t ignore them, just as she’d never been able to pass a beggar on the streets of Suzhou without bestowing a coin or a dumpling from the kitchen.

She approached the nearest enclosure in which several women crouched. The one nearest the bars had long black hair lying in greasy hanks on either side of 10

Captive Bride

her broad pockmarked face. The woman’s fingers poked through the space between the slats, gripping the rough wood.

Huiann fixed her gaze on the raggedly chewed fingernails as she spoke to the woman in Mandarin.

“Who did this to you? How can I help?” The pie-faced woman’s black eyes fixed on Huiann and she began to jabber quickly, her voice high and excited.

BOOK: Captive Bride
13.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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