The China Bride
The Bride Trilogy #2
Born to a Scottish father and now living in China, Troth Montgomery grew up speaking several languages and thinking of faraway England as home. Enduring life as a concubine, she never imagined that one day she would leave the Orient, arriving in bitter winter at the estate of a stranger--the brother of the man who had briefly been her husband. Kyle Renbourne, Viscount of Maxwell, had taken Troth as his bride shortly before his apparent execution in a Chinese prison. Now, as his widow, she is entitled to the home she always dreamed of but remains haunted by the memory of a dashing husband and the brief, forbidden love they shared.
Then Kyle seemingly returns from the dead. Though he has survived, his mind and body are badly wounded. He needs time to heal and retreats from the exotic wife he barely knows. Bitterly aware that she will never be a fitting English wife, Troth defiantly embraces her foreign traditions, hoping that the ancient arts of her ancestors will restore Kyle's spirit and her own battered heart. Together they embark on a miraculous journey of hope and faith as Kyle becomes enchanted with the intimate tranquillity he shares with his bewitching Troth. But before he can win back his China bride, Kyle must first face a deadly menace that has followed them halfway across the world. . . .
Written with exquisite elegance and gentle passion, The China Bride is a stirring tale of everlasting love and the power of forgiveness, by a master storyteller.
Beautifully written... Kyle’s story brims with enchantment, the magic of the Orient, passion and stormy romance. East meets west in the most exquisite way. One of the summer’s “must reads.
The always superb Mary Jo Putney has written a beautifully crafted story of love and loss, yin and yang. I would recommend this book to anyone who believes in the power of love and the human spirit in overcoming incredible odds.
~Old Book Barn Gazette
It is no wonder that multi-award winning bestseller Putney is a favorite of romance fans... Putney’s characterizations of two individuals who do not fit comfortably into the worlds in which they were born but through their differences can become soul mates as well as lovers are exquisite in this fast paced historical adventure romance.
Scottish and half -Chinese, Troth Mei-Lian Montgomery occupies a safe but drab niche as a translator in Canton, where her master Chenqua has her masquerade as a male so she can mingle freely with the Fan-qui, the "foreign devil" European traders, and overhear any plans that might lead to trouble. The most trouble of all is Kyle Renbourne, adventurer and heir to an earldom, who makes her remember that she's a woman.
Troth worked late the next night, translating and writing letters for Boynton at the English Factory. As Chenqua's employee, part of her job was to perform any special task requested by merchants who were clients of her master. She was grateful for an excuse not to be at Elliott's hong, where she ran the risk of running into Maxwell again. He'd haunted her dreams the night before, and she'd woken hot and humiliated. A good thing he would leave soon, never to return.
Tonight he'd intended to visit Hog Lane. Would he find the area interesting? For a man who'd traveled as widely as he, the local taverns and prostitutes would probably be nothing special. With a sharp ache, she envied him his freedom to travel. If only she had really been born male!
Because her mind kept wandering from her work, it took her longer than usual to do the translations. Her brushwork was clumsy and several letters had to be redone. She was startled to hear the office clock striking midnight as she finished. Perhaps in the morning she'd skip her exercises and sleep late.
Yawning, she left the English Factory. The porter who guarded the gate nodded farewell, used to her irregular hours.
Though Hog Lane, a mere block away, hummed with lights, noise, and activity, the waterfront was quiet, with only a handful of sampans gliding silently over the water. She was heading toward a cluster of taxi boats to get a ride across to Honam Island when a dark, stealthy figure approached. "Jin Kang?"
She recognized the whisper of a young man who worked at a drink-shop on Hog Lane and sometimes supplied her with useful bits of information. "Good evening, Teng. What brings you away from your business at such a busy hour?"
Teng drew close, his voice dropping. "I heard something you should know."
He'd obviously also heard that she was working late. There were few secrets in this narrow strip of land. "It's very late." She covered another yawn. "Is your information urgent?"
"Two toughs from one of the gangs were in the shop. I heard them discussing the money they'd earn for killing a Fan-qui, one under Chenqua's protection."
Troth stared at him, her fatigue forgotten. "No one would dare kill a Fan-qui!"
"Maybe not, but they were laughing over the number of taels of silver they'll earn when they break the skull of the new Fan-qui lord, Max-Well."
Gods above, if he was still in Hog Lane, he'd be an easy target! "Have you seen this Lord Maxwell tonight?"
Teng shrugged. "I don't know the man, but the street is full of Fan-qui sailors on leave. He might be among them."
"When did you hear the men talking?"
"Only a few minutes ago."
Seeking help would take precious time. Hog Lane was a small area, and gods willing, she'd find Maxwell before the gang members did. She was whirling to leave when Teng caught her sleeve.
"My information is valuable?"
She yanked free. "You'll receive your reward tomorrow, I swear!"
Then she bolted, racing along the silent fronts of the hongs toward the noise and lights of Hog Lane.
Sin was sin the world round, Kyle decided. Still, the rough friendliness of the sailors at the various drink-shops was a pleasant change from the suffocating respectability of the night before.
Even dressed in his oldest clothing he was conspicuous, but since he wasn't a ship's officer he was accepted easily. It helped that he was willing to buy rounds of fiery samshu, a local liquor guaranteed to banish sobriety, and quite possibly the lining of a man's stomach along with it. He drank sparingly.
Information usually flowed freely in the lower reaches of society, and that held true here. He ambled from drink-shop to drink-shop, talking with sailors of several nations and avoiding the swift sporadic fights with the skill of long practice. As the evening progressed, he collected a wide range of opinions about the China trade, though his future colleagues in the House of Lords would be appalled at the ways in which he was educating himself.
The thought of their horror did not bother him. As a boy, he'd always dreamed of traveling to distant lands. Only after he'd achieved his goal had he understood his yearning. Being a viscount and heir to an earldom from the moment he first drew breath had condemned him to a life of narrow privilege. Mostly he'd known men much like himself, bred to power and the rigid customs of his class. That was why he was drawn to people who were different. One of many reasons for loving Constancia had been that she was Spanish, as exotic as she was warm-hearted.
But it was in Asia that he had truly discovered people, ideas, and communities very different from his own. The Indian holy man whose eyes had burned with knowledge had not cared that he was Viscount Maxwell. Neither had his shipmates when they'd fought side by side against murderous Spice Islands pirates. After the battle the bosun had told him that "'is lordship didn't fight like no damned gentleman." Kyle thought it one of the finest compliments he'd ever received.
In his journeying he had discovered himself, and gained freedom and tolerance. Even if he never left England again, he was a better man for what he'd learned. He supposed that was why he now felt ready to return home. Still, he would enjoy these last days in a land so different from his own.
Hog Lane ended at Thirteen Factories Street, which paralleled the massive city wall a couple of hundred yards away. Deciding it would be best to explore the maze of shops and alleys on the other side of the street during daylight, he was about to head back to his quarters when a small boy scampered from an alley no more than seven feet wide.
The boy bowed, then said in the pidgin spoken by most of the local shopkeepers, "Sir want to see vely fine singing clickets? My master has best clickets, best plices, sir!"
Singing crickets? Amused, Kyle asked, "Where is your master's shop?"
"Just up here, sir!" The boy bowed again, then trotted down the alley, glancing over his shoulder to ensure that Kyle was following. Most of the businesses they passed were closed, but he saw a lantern illuminating an alcove ahead where minuscule cages hung from nails driven into the wall. As he approached the tiny shop, the shrilling of insects pierced the noise of Hog Lane.
Listening to the crickets, he didn't hear footfalls behind him, but a swift-moving shadow triggered an instinctive sidestep. He spun around just in time to avoid a swinging club. "Bloody hell!"
Three Chinese men had moved in behind him, and three more were coming from the far end of the alley. The boy had vanished, his job done. Swearing, Kyle charged at the men that blocked his retreat. If he could reach the drunken European sailors two blocks away in Hog Lane, they'd happily help him fight off robbers.
Weight and speed nearly broke him free before another club smashed across his left side and shoulder. He staggered and almost fell, his side going numb.
Since he carried little money and no valuables, it might be wiser to toss his purse and run, but surrender was against his nature. He grabbed the nearest man and flung him into his two companions.
The attackers from the end of the alley closed in, their grim determination visible even in the darkness. Damnation, they meant to kill him! Retreating until his back was against a wall, Kyle shouted for help in the faint hope that his voice would carry above the clamor of Hog Lane.
He used every vicious trick learned in fighting pirates, bandits, and thieves to keep the attackers at bay. But there were six of them, and he'd been damned fool enough to come without his pistol.
Thanking God for the knife in his boot, he whipped the weapon out and stabbed his nearest attacker. The man fell back, dark blood flowing over his hand. A menacing growl came from the others when they saw their victim was armed. Two of them pulled knives of their own.
Another club struck a glancing blow to his skull. He fell stunned to the ground, blackness closing in on him. Kicks crashed into his ribs and belly as he helplessly watched a flashing blade rising to strike. Dizzily he thought that it was a hell of a way to die, in a "safe" city just before he was to return home. Dominic would be stuck with the earldom after all.
A blood-freezing shout sliced through the air. An instant later, a dark clad figure cannoned into the attackers. Moving with balletic grace and unbelievable speed, the newcomer kicked one man in the crotch, chopped the throat of another with the side of his hand, and slammed the heel of his hand into the nose of a third. All three of the toughs collapsed, crying out with agony.
The gang turned on this new threat, but were unable to come to grips with the man, who was elusive as a shadow and fierce as a raging tiger. Sliding away from clutching hands and swinging clubs, he kicked a drawn knife spinning into the darkness, then dropped another man into a crumpled, moaning heap with another throat chop.
Two of the thugs tried to pin the dark clad stranger against the wall. Leaping into the air, the man somersaulted over the back of one assailant as if they were acrobats practicing a routine.
Seeing the flash of a knife, Kyle shouted a warning and tried to struggle to his feet to help, but the effort was too much. Pain seared through him and he collapsed into darkness.
Giving thanks that none of the attackers were trained in kung fu, Troth used one man's own momentum to slam him into a wall. He fell to the ground and didn't rise again. The two still standing fled into the night.
Not wasting a glance at them, she dropped down beside Maxwell, her heart pounding. His shout had drawn her to the alley, and he'd still been fighting strongly when she arrived. Gods willing, he wasn't mortally hurt.
Pulse strong, skull not crushed, little blood. He should survive. But what to do? They couldn't linger here--three of the men she'd brought down were groaning and making feeble efforts to rise, and the ones who'd run might return with reinforcements.
Help in moving Maxwell was readily available in Hog Lane, but then word of this attack on a European would become public knowledge, with catastrophic results for Chenqua since the Cohong merchants were considered responsible for everything their Fan-qui clients did. The attempted murder would bring a huge fine down on Chenqua, possibly even imprisonment. His wealth and power had made him many enemies.
She must get Maxwell back to the hong without anyone realizing what had happened. Elliott would cooperate in keeping this quiet--it was in his best interest that Chenqua not be punished.
She found Maxwell's knife where he'd dropped it and slid it back into the clever sheath concealed in his boot. Then she shook his shoulder. "Get up! We must go now."
He groaned, but didn't move. She shook him again harder, but he was too deeply unconscious to respond.
A fragment of conversation she'd heard between Maxwell and Elliott floated back to her. Maxwell had said that he'd had a Scottish nurse when he was boy. Perhaps an authoritative voice that sounded like one from his childhood would affect him in a way that her whispery, Chinese-accented English didn't.
Speaking with her father's accent, she snapped, "Get up, ye damned lazy fool! Do you want your gizzard sliced to ribbons?"
It worked. Feebly he attempted to rise. She dragged him upright, needing all the strength she'd developed in her years of wing chun training.
"I'm taking you home now, laddie." Pulling one arm over her shoulders, she guided him toward the end of the alley. Thirteen Factories Street would be quiet at this hour, and with luck, anyone seeing her would think her companion merely drunk.
Maxwell was weaving, but he managed to stay upright. As they moved into Thirteen Factories Street, he gasped, "You can't be…a Scotswoman. No European females…closer than Macao."
"I'm no Scotswoman. Your wits are wandering." She prayed he'd remember none of this later.
She was drenched with sweat by the time they reached Elliott's hong. Maxwell was heavy, and she was barely able to keep them both from falling to the street.
Disguising her voice, she spoke in Chinese to the porter in the gatehouse. "Your Fan-qui has no head for samshu."
The porter laughed as he opened the door. "Need help, boy?"
"And share the tip he gave me to get him home? No, thank you!" She moved inside. With Maxwell draped over her like a shawl, the porter probably wouldn't recognize her, and she knew how to slip out later without being seen.
She was tempted to lay Maxwell out in a quiet corner of the warehouse, but it would be better to take him to his bedroom even though it meant climbing two flights of stairs. Luckily she knew the hong well enough to find her way in near darkness. When they reached the back stairs, she used her Scottish voice again. "Steps. Climb."
He was starting to recover and used the narrow iron railing to haul himself upward. With her as a human crutch they managed, though twice they almost lost their balance and pitched down the steep staircase.
Panting, she finally got him to his bedroom door. "Do you have the key, laddie?"
Maxwell fumbled toward an inner pocket. She reached into his coat with her free hand and pulled out the key, then opened the door.
Inside the room, she steered him to the bed and dumped him unceremoniously. She would have loved to fall onto the mattress to recuperate herself, but the sooner she escaped, the less likely he was to remember her involvement. Being seen to fight off six gang members would draw too much attention to Chenqua's meek clerk. She would wake Gavin Elliott and let him take charge of his trouble-prone partner.
After lighting a lamp, she performed a more thorough examination than had been possible in the street. Maxwell would have plenty of bruises and the devil's own headache, but there didn't seem to be any serious damage. Already his eyes were flickering open. "You're not so badly off, laddie. I'll send someone to care for you."
She was turning from the bed when his hand shot out and caught her wrist. Blinking to focus, he asked, "Who are you?"
"No one you know."
"But I do know you. Jin Kang?" His brows drew together as he stared at her, struggling to clear his mind. Amazing eyes, intensely blue and edged in darkness.
She tried to pull free, but his grip was surprisingly strong and she didn't want to risk hurting him by using too much force. She rattled off several sentences in Chinese, hoping he'd remember that rather than the English she'd used earlier.
Before she could twist away, he reached up and pulled off her dark blue skull cap, baring her head. "My God," he whispered. "Jin Kang is a woman.”