The Princess Stakes - Amalie Howard Page 0,1
chased them, and they’d made excellent time. After they were back on the road, the tears she’d been holding back came like the monsoon. They spooled hot and earnest down her cheeks, and she allowed herself to cry in the privacy of the carriage.
Asha offered her a lace handkerchief, sobbing quietly herself. “What will we do?”
“Go where they cannot find us.” Sarani clasped her maid’s fingers. “Asha, do you wish to come with me or stay? Tej has no family, but you do. We can secure lodgings for you in Bombay until you can safely go back to Joor.”
“No, Princess, my place is with you.”
With a sad nod, Sarani dried her tears and straightened her shoulders. They were on their own now and survival was tantamount. Money was no object—she had a fortune in jewels and priceless heirlooms in her portmanteau and carpetbag—but they would have to leave India until it was safe to return. A tiny voice inside acknowledged that could be never.
With the instability and political unrest, the safest place for her would be off these shores. As far away as possible…which left her with only one option.
Her mother’s birthplace.
The thought of faraway London, known only from secondhand stories, made a knot form in her throat, but the alternative was much worse. If she stayed here, her fate would be the same as her father’s. No, she would go to England and take on her mother’s maiden name of Lockhart.
Pretending to be an English countess wasn’t the worst thing in the world. She had fortune enough to last a lifetime. She had her wits. She had her training. And she was of aristocratic blood. Mostly.
She could do it…be English.
Sarani caught a hint of her reflection in the carriage window. A wild-eyed woman with dark-lined eyes and a bird’s nest of black hair stared back at her, arguably more a mess of a girl than a highborn lady. She bit back a choked laugh. Her old French governess would be in a lather at the sight of her. Even with the aid of a bath and a comb, she wouldn’t pass muster. Thanks to her mixed heritage, her complexion had changed throughout her life, and right now, it had taken on a brown glow from recent days spent outdoors. She might love it, but English aristocrats were more critical.
And they were quite dependably so…
Over the years, she’d witnessed many curious and disparaging looks by other English lords and ladies in her own court…ogling her as though she were an oddity. A princess of hybrid origins led to scrutiny, and not always the good kind. People saw what they wanted to see. Once, when she was twelve and sick of such intense observation, she’d hollered boo and made three visiting ladies spill Madeira all over themselves. Their reaction had been hilariously gratifying, but her punishment wasn’t—she’d been forbidden from riding for a month.
Sarani blew out a breath. Plenty of Europeans had darker, olive-toned complexions. She would brazen it out if she had to. Besides, Lockhart was a common enough English name, and Sarani had been raised as a royal, if not a lady of quality. With an English earl for a great-grandfather, she had some claim on her mother’s family—even if her half-Scottish, half-English mother, Lady Lisbeth Lockhart, had fallen in love with an Indian prince and renounced all ties with her home of birth.
The thought of England was daunting, but there was no one else she could turn to, at least not in Joor. Her father’s relatives didn’t accept her, not truly, and she couldn’t put her trusted handmaidens in more danger. And besides, she had no idea who her enemies were or who supported her cousin. Though she despised the fact that the British had barged into her people’s lands like conquering heroes, ironically, to escape a murderer, Britain was her only hope.
Sarani inhaled a brittle breath, folding her hands in her lap. She could do this. She would get the three of them to safety.
She would just have to hide Princess Sarani Rao.
And not yell boo to any frail English ladies.
* * *
Rhystan looked up from the length of sail he was inspecting aboard the Belonging, brushing a clump of sweat-soaked hair out of his face and squinting into the hot Indian sun. He scowled. Not at the person addressing him but at the use of his title. Two years and he still wasn’t used to it. One would think as the youngest of three sons,