As it was, some part of him thought he was a gentleman. With a heaviness in her chest, she looked back. The August Emperor had built this home for her before his death.
The manor itself meant nothing to her. Her gaze drifted to the river beyond, a rolling canvas on which the sunlight danced. She breathed deep to take in the scent of the river, of the surrounding moss and earth. This was what she would miss. It had been too much to wish that she could be hidden away and forgotten. Perhaps she had always known someone would come for her. Debts had to be repaid in this life or the next. She stopped before the palanquin and turned to find herself face to face with the most ruthless of the jiedushi.
He was a tower of lean strength and corded muscle up close. And he was still assessing her with that penetrating gaze. The rulers of the empire devoured the weak. She waited until he came forward to pull the curtain aside with a sweep of his arm. The tiniest of concessions. His hand tightened on the curtain, the material clenched between his fingers. At once his pupils darkened, his breathing grew deep. The signs were there and she could read them like lines of poetry.
How else was a woman to protect herself in the world of men? Li Tao, for all of his supposed cunning, was just another man. He dropped into the familiar form of address. The spark in his eyes showed the first hint of any heat beneath the cold exterior. For a dark moment, she was caught in the call of his gaze. They were close, nearly touching. She had provoked him on purpose, but regretted it as an alarming awareness unfurled itself within her, prickling just beneath her skin.
The regiment of soldiers surrounding them faded. There was only one man here she had any fear of. Her shoulder brushed against his sleeve as she slipped inside the wooden transport. His black eyes remained on her as the curtain fell back across the opening. The journey came to Suyin in fragments snatched through the window. She caught glimpses of thick vines growing over the trees, the reflection of sunlight off of distant water. Li Tao rode at the front and his soldiers kept her surrounded at every moment.
They called themselves the Rising Guard and held the reputation of being the fiercest warriors in the empire. The dense shade and the babble of her river gave way to a dirt road grooved with wheel tracks.
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They were going south, farther away from the seat of imperial power. What lay beyond was lawless and unpredictable. That was why they had needed the jiedushi. On the fourth day, they passed an armed barricade. Grim-faced soldiers patrolled the line and she ducked away from the window. It was true. The regional armies were assembling. She had isolated herself from the capital city of Changan to escape from the unrest, but news still drifted to her over the last year through her servants. They made weekly trips to the city markets while she remained shut away in her manor.
There was only one reason for a barricade in the interior of the empire. There was in-fighting among the military governors. Perhaps she should have gone into hiding with the servants after all. With a shudder, she pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders. She was dressed in the same clothes she had worn when they had come for her, the only possessions Li Tao had allowed her to bring.
She hated this part.
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The going away. The earth element in her longed to remain grounded in one place. Travel never held good tidings. Abrupt change brought back memories of being uprooted and taken some place far and unknown. It always seemed to come to that, and she knew from experience there was never a way to return. The survival instinct returned to her, wrapping around her like second skin. She sharpened her senses and became aware of everything around her. Li Tao prepared for war with swords and soldiers. She had her own weapons. Over the next days, the open road faded beneath the shadow of a mountain and the soil became dark and rich.
They traveled into a verdant forest of bamboo. The stalks rose high overhead. They called it the bamboo sea, not for any vast stretch of water, but for the rhythmic sway of the bamboo and the rustle of the spear-tipped leaves in the breeze.
The green canopy engulfed them on all sides. When she blinked away from the window, a red haze remained over her eyes, veiling the world in an unnatural glow. Suyin peered out the window of the sedan to search for Li Tao. He rode tall in the saddle, back straight. His dark robe stood out against the forest green. Naturally, he became her main focal point.
He had all the power and she had none. Why would he go beyond his barricades to take her captive? Her influence had died with the August Emperor. She was merely a relic now, faded and wrung free of any usefulness. The caravan came to an abrupt stop and the curtain was swept aside. Once again, Li Tao stood before her. He extended his hand and she had no choice but to take it, pressing her fingers briefly over his before letting go. The fleeting warmth of the touch lingered on her skin, and a disturbing awareness curled around her as she stood beside him.
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She knew how to identify influence and power, but had never been so recklessly drawn to it. She redirected her attention to the mansion nestled among the towering bamboo. It was twice the size of her home and built in the same opulent style of imperial architecture. The silhouette invoked the elaborate pagodas of the palace with wooden beams and tiled rooftops.
Its grand structure intruded upon the tranquil forest. Her head tilted to him in challenge.
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His only reply was a wry twist of his lips before he gestured toward the front of the mansion. The man hoarded his words like gold coins. Every action was so controlled, she wondered if he ever lost himself in anger or passion. The last thought sent a shiver down her spine. Li Tao remained behind her as they moved past the twin lion statues that guarded the entrance. With every step, she became more aware of his dominance. His stride was confident and his authority complete. The illusion of deference he presented by allowing her to lead the way was laughable.
How long would it be before he made his true demands known? Household servants filed into the entrance hall one after another. Only seven of them, a small number for such a spacious compound. A gray-haired, round-faced woman headed the assembly. She gasped when Li Tao made the introduction. She flushed hot with anger as he disappeared down a corridor. He had treated her with the same indifference throughout the journey. She had been taken from her home under force of arms, yet he cast her aside as if she was of no importance at all. It was—it was worse than being interrogated and threatened.
The guards marched behind them as she led Suyin through the spacious hall. Auntie padded along in her slippers and led Suyin past the parlor to the interior rooms. The chambers stood silent and spacious with furnishings laid out in neat angles. Everything was meticulously dusted and non-descript, as unrevealing as the master of the house.
Like this: Like Loading About jeanniezelos I'm an avid reader, love my kindle and I have my head in a novel for hours daily : Mum used to say I'd read toilet paper if it was printed- it wasn't, so i had to contend myself with the back and sides of the cereal packets. I've always Needed to read and we had few books when i was a child hence my penchant for reading anything including adverts then I review mainly contemporary, erotic and paranormal romance books though dystopian and urban fantasy also appeal.
I'm currently rated around the mark on amazon. I try to keep them structured and to say what I do and don't like about a book so other readers can use my review as a guide to whether they may enjoy the book. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:. Email required Address never made public. Name required. Search for:. I do a few direct from authors, but don't have time for many so please request before sending me ARCs.
I never use the category "Womens" fiction.
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Anyone can write romance well, with enough talent, not me! Suggesting a book will only appeal to a certain readership is outdated and I feel has no place in our non binary sexuality times. I don't read novellas or short books, unless they are part of an existing series as I simply don't enjoy them. Follow Blog via Email Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Join 1, other followers Follow. Author Rachel Grant Book Gossips.
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