Those who are well acquainted with me know that I can sometimes be a bit obsessive about research, but I feel that the small details add richness and life to any story. Jewel of the East was an unusual project for me in that the setting is late Georgian England but the story is steeped in Middle Eastern culture, which required some unique world-building. The heroine, Salime, a former odalisque from Constantinople, was a fascinating character from a previous story (The Devil’s Match) whose cultural background allowed me to add tremendous depth and color to the story.
I was particularly fascinated with the numerous Turkish traditions related to coffee. This includes the art of divination based on the shapes formed by the sediment, which I decided to work into the story. In Jewel of the East, I have endeavored to appeal to all of the readers’ senses through silk-draped rooms lit by brass oil lamps, Turkish divans and tassled cushions, the jingling bells on Salime’s slippers, the tinkle of finger cymbals and music from the oud, the scents of Jasmine, Turkish coffee, shisha and exotic spices, in hope of invoking vivid and powerful imagery.
Simon stirred to life with a moan and an uncomfortable awareness of a raging erection wrought by a nocturnal fantasy. He’d dreamt he was in paradise, an exotic place of silken sheets and canopies, of incense perfuming the air, and scantily clad, sultry-eyed, sweet smelling women. What a heaven it was, a utopia from which he never wanted to awaken.
Although reluctant to break the spell, he finally opened his eyes—to a canopy of scarlet silk billowing above his head just as in his dream. His gaze tracked the room in disbelief. The entire chamber resembled a sultan’s seraglio, or as close to one as Simon could imagine. He lay in a massive bed in an expansive chamber. A thick Turkish carpet covered the floor where a number of large and inviting silken cushions were scattered. He inhaled deeply of the exotic scents of jasmine and incense, and of another vaguely familiar aroma that perfumed the air.
She glanced up at him with a gasp and he nearly swallowed his tongue. Good God in heaven! It was her! The same sultry siren who’d graced his erotic dreams. Was he hallucinating? Simon scrubbed his face, but the apparition remained.
She dropped the small copper pot with a clatter. “A thousand pardons, Efendi. You startled me.”
“Wh-who the devil are you?” His voice was hoarse from a throat gone completely dry.
“I am Salime,” she replied, lowering her gaze and then sinking gracefully to her knees. Her glossy black hair cascaded in silky lengths over her shoulders and down her back, nearly touching the floor where she knelt.
Her seductive attire left little to the imagination, let alone one so deprived…or better said depraved…as Simon’s. She wore a diaphanous tunic in a vivid shade of violet, revealing the generous swells of breasts uncontained by stays. His gaze lingered at the dusky shadows of her nipples, barely concealed by the thin fabric. His gaze drifted lower to where the tunic gathered at the hips with a girdle richly embroidered in silver and gold thread. She had gloriously rounded hips, neither hidden beneath petticoats nor exaggerated by panniers. From the top of her bejeweled headdress to the bells on the toes of her slippers, his hungry eyes feasted as if she were a banquet.
His gaze returned to her face, partially draped from ear to ear by a silken veil that obscured her features, revealing only a shadowy outline of her mouth. The effect only emphasized her large and luminous almond-shaped eyes—eyes the golden color of topaz. Although her posture and expression were outwardly demure, she exuded mystery and sensuality.
“In his travels, Lord DeVere acquired a liking for many Eastern traditions—the hookah, the hammam, Turkish coffee.” She indicated a pair of cups and saucers on a low table beside a small lit brazier. “Is such coffee also to your liking?”
“I don’t know that I have ever tasted it,” Simon confessed.
She smiled and indicated a tasseled cushion. “If you will please sit, it would be my honor to prepare some for you.”
Lowering himself onto a cushion beside the table, Simon watched her every move. Salime knelt by the brazier and went about her task, every movement graceful and efficient. With an occasional sidelong glance, she heaped several spoonfuls of dark-colored coffee powder into a small brass pot sitting atop the brazier and then added a small amount of another substance. Simon inhaled, endeavoring to identify the scen
She placed her cup and saucer upside-down and waited for him to do the same. She then tore a brass coin from her girdle and placed it on top of each cup. “To dispel bad omens,” she explained. “We shall wait a moment, then I will read the shapes that form inside.”
“You would have me believe these random clots of coffee will divine my future?”
“The shapes are not random,” she said. “They reveal your past and your future for the next forty days.”
“Why forty days?”
“I do not know. One just accepts that it is so.” She gingerly separated the cup from the saucer, exclaiming in delight when a clump of sediment fell onto the dish. “It is a sign of the best possible kind!”
“Is it indeed?” Simon remained skeptical.
“Yes, this means you will soon be rid of all troubles and sadness.”
“Really?” His mouth twisted with renewed cynicism. “Gone, just like that?” He snapped his fingers. “And pray what other happy tidings does this oracular piece of porcelain reveal?”
Once more ignoring his mockery Salime concentrated on the blobs remaining inside the cup. “I see a lion, Efendi. This sign represents a friend of power and influence.”
“That can only be DeVere.”
“I also see an apple.”
“Ah, the forbidden fruit. It has always been my favorite.” He plucked an apple out of a basket on the table, polishing it on his sleeve and then holding it between his palms as if it were a crystal ball. “Pray tell me, what does this prophetic fruit indicate?”
Though his persistent mockery annoyed her, she was encouraged by the hint of humor and the glint that flashed once more in his eyes.
“The apple represents creative achievement,” she replied.
“Then we are definitely speaking of my past.” With a scornful display of sharp white teeth, he took a vicious bite of the fruit, tearing it almost in half.
“No, Efendi.” She pointed inside the cup. “You see how this image straddles both the left and right side? This position indicates both past and future.”
“The future being the next forty days?”
“”My creative endeavors are dead! This little game of yours is no longer amusing. I have quite done with it.” He shoved away from the table, knocking the cup from her hand and smashing the fragile china on the floor.
“That is not so!” she exclaimed. “You need only let go of your bitterness…your grief to move forward again. Your passions will not flourish until you have purged your soul of the poison of self-pity.”
He raked her with a look of pure virulence, his anger charging the very air surrounding him. “DeVere put you up to this, didn’t he? This entire sham positively reeks of that meddling DeVere!”
“You are wrong,” she replied softly. “One need not be a sage, when all reveals itself in your eyes.” At this moment they were the color of a brewing tempest and his body visibly quaked—signs that the storm threatened to erupt full force.
“What can any of you know of my bitterness…my grief?” Simon snarled.
“I can see that you suffer from it, Efendi. ‘And he that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it’.”
“You all think it is so easy but you know nothing.”
“Forgive me, Efendi.” She clasped her hands and bowed her head. She had pressed him too far, expected too much. “It was never my intention to distress you.”
Turning his back, Simon stalked off, much like an injured beast retreating to lick his wounds.
Even as he withdrew into himself, his injured spirit had cried out, moving her deeply. What must it be like to carry such a burden? She had come here as a simple bargain to repay her longstanding debt to DeVere, but was now gripped by a powerful surge of compassion.
Suddenly Simon’s needs had become her own. She murmured almost inaudibly, “Forty days, Efendi… also means forty nights.”
QUESTION: What is the most interesting cultural tidbit you have learned from a romance novel?
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JEWEL OF THE EAST by Victoria Vane
Maimed by Misfortune… Healed by Love…
In the fifth installment of the award-winning Devil DeVere series, DeVere once more plays the unlikely cupid by bringing together Simon (The Trouble with Sin) and Salime (The Devil’s Match), two injured souls who find ultimate healing in each other’s arms.(May be read as a standalone.)
His wounds run deep…Having once lived his life only for larks, laughter, and ladies of easy virtue, Captain Simon Singleton has returned from war a shambles of a man. Although free from six years of captivity, he’s still fettered by fears that confine him to a life of seclusion.
Her scars are well-hidden…Once the crowning jewel of the most lavish brothel in London, the exotic Salime finds her reputation and livelihood destroyed by a bitter rival. With a closely guarded secret stripped away, she fears no man will ever desire her again. Seeking aid from one who once saved her life, she accepts a proposition to become a companion to his war-scarred friend.
But love is the eternal cure…When circumstance brings these two damaged souls together, fate ignites a love story worthy of the Arabian Nights.